A Touch of Zen

1969

A Touch of Zen

Critics Consensus

A brilliantly directed feast for the eyes with an epic story to match, A Touch of Zen marks a groundbreaking achievement in the wuxia genre.

96%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 24

82%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 1,345
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Movie Info

According to this drama, set in 14th-century China, a state-run secret police organization made life a living hell for anyone with the temerity to cross it. In the story, a noblewoman is in hiding. When a police spy tries to take her to his masters, she beats him in single combat.

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Critic Reviews for A Touch of Zen

All Critics (24) | Top Critics (4)

  • ...the film's supernatural machinery evaporates only to be replaced with a magical kind of Buddhist spiritualism (the titular 'touch of Zen') that reconfigures everything that has preceded into religio-philosophical allegory.

    Jan 20, 2016 | Full Review…
  • The visual style will set your eyes on fire.

    Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…

    Tony Rayns

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • [King Hu] has not ignored traditional mayhem here, but he has demonstrated that pictorial artistry, Zen mysticism and the stylized martial arts, can make a fascinating mix.

    May 9, 2005 | Full Review…
  • A widely acclaimed martial arts film (1971) by Hong Kong's King Hu, one of the handful of directors to have worked in the genre with artistic ambitions.

    May 24, 2003 | Full Review…
  • Hu directs a film that stands apart from the plethora of wuxia titles for many reasons, but particularly because the script does not exist to provide a background for the action, but it is elaborately written filled with social and philosophical comments

    Nov 3, 2018 | Full Review…
  • With the first shots of Zen we are plunged into a nature marked by eerie majesty.

    Apr 10, 2018 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for A Touch of Zen

  • Jun 02, 2014
    Impossible to fight against its power... Impossible to be overwhelmed by its technical brilliance... I cannot fight against it! Screened at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival, and winning a Technical Grand Prize, King Hu's massively influential, multifaceted work of art <i>Xia nü</i> became the first Mandarin language film ever to win a major western film festival award. Still, the size and scope of the film overshadow this fact, almost transforming it into a futile piece of trivia. With a massive array of both philosophical and technical offerings, the massively underappreciated Taiwanese treasure has the most unusual capacity to transform itself into something else with each episodic advancement it makes through time: 1) It is first a seemingly simple drama with comedic relief derived from the relationship between the protagonist and his mother. 2) It then provides a misleading hint about a potential romance in the middle of a possible political intrigue. 3) Then, the most fundamental aspect of it all arises from a modern point of view: the movie proceeds to confirm its reputation as the most cinematically relevant influence on the wuxia genre. 4) Then, the <b>protagonist becomes a secondary character</b> after orchestrating <b>a landmark event</b> in the film, which decides the destinies and outcomes of many. He is afterwards sent to a journey of spiritual redemption and self-acceptance. 5) Leaving this now-secondary character into a personal journey with a new life aiming, the film decides to change its focus and unleashes an epic, cataclysmic confrontation between two forces, with memorable and drastically dissonant personifications of "good" and "evil". 6) It ends with a thought-provoking note on the transcendence of our actions and how, maybe, "good" is an inert force capable of restoring the balance of an evil world by itself, and we are just the vehicles of that invisible force meant to fight against tangible and intangible armies, despite the limitations imposed by our human condition. Several times it has been mentioned that <i>Xia nü</i> is a notorious influence on <i>Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon</i> (2000). It is an important mention, because that parallelism goes beyond the martial arts choreography, and the rural settings and natural landscapes. Both have extremely similar, periodic philosophical and/or Buddhist reflections of the futility of violence and the meaning of our existence. This heavy substance adds meaning to the entire story. Both have a very similar way to conclude. Earthly circumstances and personal stories are intentionally left unfinished for leaving room for the metaphysical to close an epic story. Yimou Zhang's contributions to the wuxia genre also carry the essence of King Hu, but mainly from a visual point of view, especially <i>House of Flying Daggers</i> (2004). It is not only because of its vision that King Hu's celluloid elephant deserves its still pending reputation. In short, it is because it is a project with a big heart emptied all over it, sprinkled with fragments of glory throughout. Films bringing the limitations of the human condition to the surface and simultaneously exalting it while making us think about transcendental themes are, in my book, really admirable. 98/100
    Edgar C Super Reviewer
  • Oct 25, 2010
    Early 70's wuxia film about Ku, living with his mum in an abandoned fort, Yang mysterious and attractive and baddy Eunuch Wei who's trying to kill her. Long, dated and slow.
    Lesley N Super Reviewer
  • Jul 26, 2008
    it's not a typical wuxia film. it's a philosophical epic from the most artistic of the original martial arts directors, king hu, that takes a full hour to build to the first fight scene. so be warned. the second hour is well worth the wait, the action is beautifully staged and cut, a huge influence on the modern wuxia, crouching tiger, house of flying daggers, etc. one might want to start with king hu's first film for the shaw brothers, come drink with me, as this takes some getting through. it's an art film lol. also it could use restoration; some scenes are pretty murky. now i need to find dragon inn...
    Stella D Super Reviewer
  • Jul 14, 2008
    The length of this movie does not bother me. I'll sit through any engaging film, no matter how long it is. What bothers me is the engagement angle. If a film is tightly wrought, then five or six hours or even more is no problem. This one, however, goes through periods where the editorial staff seems to have been asleep at the board. It's definitely a movie with a split personality. At times it's stunning both in terms of narrative and visuals. At times it is so dark that it's impossible to see what's going on for very long stretches. There is character meandering that goes on way too long -- we could use a "touch" less from time to time. Overall, I think a restoration is in order -- the quality of the DVD is not even. <p>There is a truly strong woman principal here -- my favorite character -- along the lines of a Ziyi Zhang from <i>Crouching Tiger</I>, but this woman is even stronger in that her sexuality is all but absent. She's a kind of asexual butt-kicker, who almost never depends on her femininity to carry a scene -- the musical seduction is the only scene I can recall where she plays it purely as a woman. The part could almost be played by a male -- but thankfully it isn't. She's wonderful.<p> I'm not keen on the story -- it's basically political intrigue minus the intrigue. <p>Still, if you are looking for a non-Hollywoodian movie from China, this one is a must-see.
    Lanning : Super Reviewer

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