The Taiwanese wuxia classic, A Touch of Zen, finally arrives on Dual Format boasting an impressive 4K restoration, marking the perfect opportunity to revisit this milestone of action filmmaking and one of the forefathers to the modern swordplay movie.
To put it in context, this is usually cited as one of the biggest inspirations behind Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, House of Flying Daggers and more. It was also the first Chinese-language film to break out and gain recognition at the Cannes Film Festival. Great accolades, but it would be a disservice to label this a pure Martial Arts film; in fact King Hu’s film is a quiet, engaging and visually stunning historic tale which builds on mood and tension rather than relying on wall-to-wall fight scenes. Filmed from 1968 for three years before being released in 1971, originally split into two parts, the full three hour epic is an engrossing experience to say the least.
Filmed with rich, beautiful colours and Hu’s trademark cinematic, panoramic scope, on a purely visual level it’s exactly the kind of film to benefit from such a restoration, especially on Blu-ray. Throw in the haunting, atmospheric audio and sword-wielding action, there’s plenty of fun to be had.
Most genre cinephiles will have seen it, but for anyone who hasn’t, the complex and multi-layered story depicts a quiet, unambitious artist (Shih Jun) who becomes deeply involved with a mysterious woman (Hsu Feng) and her quest for revenge against the Imperial forces responsible for wiping out her family. That’s the core story but there is a great deal more substance relating to spirituality, loyalty, life and love, much of which is left open to interpretation. Clocking in at a solid three hours, there’s plenty of time to explore these themes. As with many of these pictures from the 60’s and 70’s it may seem a little slow, especially by today’s standards, but this shouldn’t detract from the kind of rich cinematic experience unlike most comparable films you’ll see today.
Eureka’s Masters of Cinema Series have re-released the film in a three disc Dual Format edition for the first time in the UK. This version includes:
-New 4k transfer
-Scene commentary by critic Tony Rayns
-King Hu 1932-1997: 47-minute documentary
-Golden Blood: New video essay by critic David Cairns
-36 page booklet featuring Hu’s director statement from the Cannes Film Festival; a 1975 interview with King Hu by Tony Rayns; the original short story; the eight characteristics of ”the swordswomen” in King Hu’s films; plus archival images
The immense history of this genre cannot be properly told without understanding the impact and significance of this film. And with the technology now available to give this film such an impressive restoration, the history is well preserved for generations to come. For long-time fans or new audiences alike, A Touch of Zen is essential and this version offers the very best presentation the film is likely to have.
A Touch of Zen is out now from Eureka Entertainment.