Director: King Hu
Screenplay: King Hu
Based on a Story by: Songling Pu
Starring: Feng Hsu, Chun Shih, Ying Bai, Tien Peng, Roy Chiao
Running Time: 180 min
BBFC Certificate: 12
I generally pass on reviewing films I already own or have seen before (which points to free screener greed as being the key influence on my writing). However, I make exceptions now and again for firm favourites that I’d love to see on Blu-Ray or with added features. A Touch of Zen isn’t a film I’d give a full 5 stars to (as you can clearly see), but it’s a film that deserves to be seen in as high a quality format as possible and one that I was keen to revisit. I often struggle to find the time or enthusiasm to put on a three hour film, but reviewing commitments force me to put them on if I’ve requested a screener. Also, A Touch of Zen was highly talked up to me before my first viewing, so I was keen to watch it again without that level of expectation behind it.
A Touch of Zen has an unusual structure. It’s sort of split into three differing sections. The first hour is an intriguing mystery which sees the unambitious but intelligent painter Gu (Chun Shih) get caught up in some sort of conspiracy simmering between a handful of newcomers to town, Yang Hui-ching (Feng Hsu), Ouyang Nin (Tien Peng) and General Shi (Ying Bai). As we follow Gu through this period, the audience is kept in the dark for most of the first hour, but it remains gripping, aided by some supernatural elements as the old run down house which neighbours Gu’s and houses Yang is believed to be haunted.
Once Gu is let in on the secret behind these mysterious characters, about an hour in, the film opens out into an action thriller though. We discover that Yang is on the run from the Eastern Group (of which Ouyang is a chief officer), effectively the police force of the treacherous Eunuch Wei. Yang’s father has been executed for trying to speak out against Wei and the Group have been ordered to kill the rest of his family too. Hearing of this injustice, Gu agrees to help Yang and Shi, using his intellect and knowledge of the local area to help stage an ambush on the Group’s soldiers.