Sunday, 1 July 2007

A Touch of Zen (1971)

Chinese title: Xia Nu (俠女).

A Touch of Zen (1971)This is arguably the most famous flick of the nuxia subgenre, albeit that Cheng Pei-pei isn't the female lead. The original Chinese title Xia Nu (俠女 or Swordswoman. Xianu = Nuxia) speaks for itself. To be exact, it's a nuxia revenge romance flick.

This wuxia is 3 hours long, and is structured in 3 parts. It's really 3 movies in 1.

The vagueness of the title does create a mystery, which is also its intent for the 1st part (lasts 1 hour). When I read in the opening credit that it's based on the story of Pu Songlin - the notable Chinese writer of ghost stories - I assumed it's a ghost story. It turns out not to be the case. But the ghost element certain plays an important role in the 1st and 2nd part.

The 2nd part is more of a typical Chinese battle tactic defending a fort only in much smaller scale.

The 3rd part is all about sword play actions that's comparable to those in that period.

The 3 parts are also imbued with ambiance that is appropriate with its theme. The air of mystery is conjured up in the 1st part as the audience is trying to find out - via the nosey Mr. Ku - who's who.

The creepy atmosphere is created in the 2nd part, while the 3rd part is saturated with variety of brilliant light works of the saintly or spiritual kind with halos and shafts of light from the sky.

Indeed there're very few movies that put some much emphasis on the play of lights and shadows to create the magical ambiance. It also features a lot very nice landscape, which I suspect is in Taiwan (some in fact I saw it in the tourist trail) as China would be inaccessible in that period.

There's a fresh face Sammo Hung who was still an unknown made an appearance for about 10 - 15 minutes near the end of the film.

It's above your average SB wuxia flick at the time. It's also a visual feast of the ever changing moods of King Hu's mastery over lights and shadows. The smokey mountain and forest scenery painted with light recreated what Chinese traditional Chinese watercolourists done with their paintbrushes.

I've little doubt that Ang Lee who made Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon have seen and inspired by this film. There's the famous bamboo forest scenes in both movies.

It's a masterpiece of wuxia cinema.

This film is included in my IMDB movie list.

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