The Film (5/5)
Gu is an umambitious painter who lives in a rural Chinese village when a mysterious woman, Yang, moves into the supposedly haunted manor adjacent to their home. Another stranger promptly follows and commissions a portrait from Gu. This is actually a front to help him investigate the village where he suspects Yang is living, as she and her family are fugitives from his employer Eunuch Wei. Eunuch Wei has previously executed Yang's Father, and has put out a contract to have the rest of her family properly killed.
Regardless of her fugitive state, Gu befriends Yang, and the two begin to prepare the manor she dwells in for the attack by Eunuch Wei's soldiers. In the mean while we learn more about her character. Using the haunted reputation as a benefit Gu helps to booby trap the manor as a way to defeat the soldiers. After the battle, however, Yang disappears. Rather, then give up on her Gu begins to search for her. He inevitably does, but things do not end as one would expect.
King Hu's Touch of Zen is a film that I have long heard of, but have avoided watching. The reason being is I had heard it was a true epic of Wuxia cinema, and an influence on generations of films to come, but that the home video releases were less than quality. That has changed with the Eureka - Masters of Cinema release of the film (more on that later), so I finally was able to acquaint myself with the film through a quality version.
A Touch of Zen is a unique entry in the Wuxia genre in many ways. Obviously itís running time is not typical of films in the genre as it runs nearly 3 hours in length. However, there is much more to it than simply that. The film starts out for the first hour or so building up it's characters, narrative, and their background before unleashing the slightest bit of action. This technique allows the action to feel like it has a deeper purpose other than to get the audiences heart beating like in a more typical martial arts film, and when it does happen we are treated to some excellently choreographed action. The third, and probably most important is it's focus on Buddhist symbolism. While other martial arts films of the period certainly utilize religion and Buddhist philosophy, a Touch of Zen feels like a film that is meant to help give the viewer a better and deeper understanding of Buddhism using the Wuxia genre as a template. The film itself feels like 3 distinctly different films that come together in the third and final portion to push this Buddhist message home during the films concluding half hour or so.
The direction from Hu is simply stylish and amazing all the way through, and he manages to keep an excellent pacing throughout the long 3 hour piece. The performances from the cast are excellent, and bring true depth to their roles. Also, the scale of the production is quite large, and everything from sets to costumes look fabulous here.
Eureka's Masters of Cinema has done wonders again with their release of a Touch of Zen. The Blu-ray is presented at 2:35:1 in a 1080p transfer with the film looking stunning. Colors look natural, yet are well reproduced. There are nice solid blacks, and excellent detail throughout.
The audio is presented in an LPCM 1.0 mono track in Mandarin. The dialogue, score, and ambient effects come through nicely with nothing to complain about as far as defects and audio anomalies.
There are 3 discs in this set, one Blu-ray and 2 DVD's. The lone extra accompanying the Blu-ray presentation is a select scene commentary by Asian film historian Tony Rayns that runs about half the films running time. The DVD's come with a documentary on King Hu, and a video essay by David Cairns. There is also a booklet of liners notes included in the package.
A Touch of Zen is an amazing and epic piece of Wuxia cinema. The Blu-ray restoration from Eureka looks and sounds amazing, and comes with a quite decent slate of extras. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.