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Blu-ray & DVD Review

DVD cover

A Touch of Zen (1970)
(Blu-Ray & DVD Dual Format)


Starring: Hsu Feng, Shih Jun, Pai Ying and Roy Chiao
Distributor: Eureka / The Masters of Cinema
RRP: £27.95 (Blu-Ray & DVD Dual Format)
Certificate: 12
Release Date: 25 January 2016

Gu (Chun Shih) is a rather hapless scholar who still lives with his mother, who is exasperated at his lack of ambition. The family live close to a large abandoned residence which has become the hiding place for the warrior Yang (Feng Hsu) and her mother, who are being chased by the corrupt eunuch Wei. Finally discovering the pair, Wei sends an army to surround the residence and kill Yang...

A Touch of Zen (1971. 2 hrs, 59 min, 25 sec) is a philosophical martial arts film, directed by King Hu, whose influence should not be underestimated. The film elevated the language of the martial arts film and directly influenced the look and tone of House of Flying Daggers (2004) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000).

There are many themes which run through the film, not least of which is the confrontation between state and religion. The state, as personified by Wei and his underlings are corrupt to their souls, willing to corrupt or kill any who stand in their way. The Buddhist monks who shelter Yang are willing to fight, but only in self-defence. The finale of the film involves the confrontation of these two opposing world views, leaving a deliberately enigmatic ending, allowing the audience in impose their own interpretation.

The film was justifiably famed for its fight choreography. This was an age where a certain amount of style could be introduced to make for a more exciting visual experience. At the same time we have not quite reached the absurdist level that some of the later wire work would achieve.

The film is presented as a three disc set, but the review only concerns the DVDs as no Blu-rays were received. A well as the film the first DVD disc also contains both the theatrical trailer (1 min, 42 sec), but also a scene specific commentary from film historian, Tony Ryans, who pipes up at five intervals to speak about the scene you’re currently watching.

The second disc contains a documentary about King Hu (47 min, 56 sec) the film includes both Taiwanese/Chinese as well as English. It is an incredibly well produced documentary and covers the director’s life, including one of his most influential films, A Touch of Zen. Golden Blood (17 min, 36 sec) is a documentary about the film, well worth a look after you have seen the main movie, as it compares many of the differences between western and eastern cinema language.

If you’re a fan of martial art film, you’re going to love this fully restored copy. In many ways it deals with deeper themes than most of the genre, but that should not put you off as the fight scenes are a spectacular watch.


Charles Packer

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Blu-ray & DVD