A Touch of Zen (1969)

A Touch of Zen (1969)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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Movie Info

An influential martial arts film and an acknowledged influence on Ang Lee's amazing Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, King Hu's A Touch of Zen opens with young scholar Ku Shen-chai working at his portraiture stand in a small frontier town. He lives with his nagging mother in a supposedly haunted, rundown house at the edge of the abandoned Ching Liu estate. One day, a stranger named Ou-Yang Yin asks for his picture to be painted, and then suddenly leaves. Soon, another stranger -- this time a beautiful woman named Yang Hui-Ching -- suddenly moves into the complex next door. The presence of these strangers has an increasingly unnerving effect on Ku, and he rightfully comes to believe that the entire town is involved in some bizarre political intrigue. After a night of passion between Ku and Yang, Ou-Yang Yin stages a surprise attack on the compound, which Yang surprisingly thwarts with dazzling aplomb. Yang reveals to him that her father was an honorable general executed due to the nefarious doings of the powerful Eunuch Wei. With the aid of General Shih and Lu (who pose as the town's blind beggar and herb vendor respectively), Yang was spirited away first to a monastery where she learned martial arts and then to Ku's remote corner of China. Ou-Yang Yin, Eunuch Wei's henchman, has in turn vowed to pursue her to the ends of the earth. As Ou-Yang Yin rallies Wei's army to the walled estate, Ku -- having spent a lifetime researching military history -- devises a brilliant strategy to crush the siege and win the heart of this most unusual woman. Though his plan works, he fails to win the loyalty of Yang; she flees into the night as Ku slept. After searching desperately, Ku finds her in the same monastery where she learned kung-fu. Now a Buddhist nun, she hands over their child to him and sends him packing. Realizing that Ku is in danger, Yang and her mentor -- a saintly abbot -- then set out to protect him. Suddenly out of nowhere, Hsu Hsien-Chen -- the profoundly evil army commander of Eunuch Wei -- confronts the abbot and an all-out battle between good and evil ensues. Screened at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival and winning a technical prize, this was the first Chinese language film ever to win a major western film festival award. ~ Jonathan Crow, Rovi
Action & Adventure , Art House & International , Drama
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Critic Reviews for A Touch of Zen

All Critics (17) | Top Critics (3)

The visual style will set your eyes on fire.

Full Review… | June 23, 2006
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.

Full Review… | May 8, 2005
New York Times
Top Critic

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.

Full Review… | May 24, 2003
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

It's hard to imagine many films being more suited for the Blu-ray format than A Touch of Zen, King Hu's sensual wuxia epic, which finally makes its way onto high definition courtesy of the Criterion Collection.

Full Review… | July 19, 2016
Slant Magazine

A vigorous heroine, ghosts, balletic battles, political friction, the greenest of green bamboo and a mystical ending that satisfies without resolution.

Full Review… | June 29, 2016

Its closest analog may be Sergio Leone's 'Once Upon a Time in the West': arty yet dirty, super-long and instantly iconic yet enjoyable as pure genre junk.

Full Review… | April 25, 2016

Audience Reviews for A Touch of Zen


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
Lesley N

Super Reviewer

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 Dallas
Stella Dallas

Super Reviewer

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.

There is a truly strong woman principal here -- my favorite character -- along the lines of a Ziyi Zhang from Crouching Tiger, 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.

I'm not keen on the story -- it's basically political intrigue minus the intrigue.

Still, if you are looking for a non-Hollywoodian movie from China, this one is a must-see.

Lanning : )
Lanning : )

Super Reviewer

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