A Touch of Zen

dir. King Hu

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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Legendary director King Hu made his masterpiece with this breathtaking wuxia epic, the only martial-arts film ever admitted to competition at the Cannes Film Festival and a direct inspiration for Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.


Legendary director King Hu began his career at the Shaw Brothers studio in the late fifties, and achieved his first major success with the classic 1966 wuxia film Come Drink With Me. Temperamentally opposed to the macho stylings of Chang Cheh (One-Armed Swordsman) which then dominated at Shaws, the art school-educated director relocated to Taiwan, where he founded his own company so that he could be free to pursue his own unique artistic vision. Hu made his masterpiece in 1971 with A Touch of Zen, an acknowledged influence on Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the only martial-arts film ever admitted to competition at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Technical Grand Prize. An epic fantasy about a timid artist and scholar (a stand-in for the director) drawn into a battle to protect a beautiful young woman from corrupt nobles intent on wiping out her entire family, Touch introduces those features that would come to define Hu's cinema: exquisite, painterly compositions cut through by rapid-fire editing and spectacular physical and cinematic choreography, often taking place in near-silence. Intertwining its extraordinary visuals with themes from traditional Chinese philosophy, A Touch of Zen is not only a classic of the martial-arts film but a complex and enduring work of cinematic art.