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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Legend of the Mountain (1979)
(Blu-Ray & DVD Dual Format)


Starring: Shih Chun, Hsu Feng and Sylvia Chang
Distributor: Eureka Entertainment
RRP: £17.99 (Blu-Ray & DVD Dual Format)
Certificate: PG
Release Date: 19 March 2018

Having failed his imperial exams, Scholar Ho Qingyun, is reduced to touting himself around as a copyist. When a monastery engages his services to copy a powerful sutra, he journeys to an abandoned fort, where he encounters a strange old woman and her beautiful daughter.

Legend of the Mountain (Shan zhong zhuan qi. 1979. 3 hrs, 12 min, 04 sec) is a fantasy/horror ghost story from director King Hu (Dragon Inn (1967), A Touch of Zen (1971)). The story was adapted from a Song Dynasty folk tale.

Our protagonist Ho (Chun Shih), is uncomplicatedly open hearted. On his way to where he will translate the Sutra several strange occurrences happen, he sees a beautiful young girl who plays haunting flute music before unexpectedly disappearing. Close to his destination he meets an old woodcutter who advises him against carrying on with his journey.

Although somewhat concerned, Ho continues crossing a river which separates the real world from the spirit realm. Almost immediately he is attacked by the deranged Zhang (Feng Tien) only to be rescued by the seemingly benign Adviser Tsui (Lin Tung). To further disturb his peace his world is invaded by Madam Wang (Rainbow Hsu) who introduces him to her daughter Melody (Feng Hsu). After a particularly drunken night Ho wakes to find Melody in his rooms, accusing him of taking advantage of her. Horrified at his behaviour he promises to marry the girl.

As Ho works on his translation odd occurrences continue to happen around him, until one fateful day Ho and Tsui decide to go to the market. Too late to make it in time they stop off at an inn run by Cloud (Sylvia Chang) and her mother. When Tsui gets drunk he reveals that Melody is a demon who is after the Sutra.

The film is a combination of art film extolling the beauty of the countryside and nature in general and an effectively creepy ghost story. If you're looking for over the top fight scenes, such as in Dragon Inn, you're mostly out of luck. There are a few instances of fighting and flying, but these are nowhere as effective as the magic duels which are played out on competing drums. It doesn’t sound like a lot but the continued ramping up the beat creates an effective form of tension, not something I have seen before.

It's only Ho’s natural good heart and the fact that he seems to fall in love with Melody that stops him running away. The town where he finds himself is like walking into an episode of Sapphire and Steel and evokes the same reaction: I’m not certain what I’m looking at, but I know its creepy.

The film has been restored to its original length, there had been short versions available, so it is difficult to know if some of the unexpected jump cut are meant to unsettle the audience or if they are indicative of more lost footage.

The film's focus is not on the story per se, but on creating a meditation of the beauty of the countryside, so a lot of the film's length is taken up with long lingering shots of nature. Oddly enough this does little to detract from the effective ghost story.

As part of Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series, the film has been released as a Blu-ray and DVD package. As I was only sent the DVD I cannot comment on the quality of the Blu-ray. However, the full 4K restoration looks great on the DVD. The film comes with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with MPEG-2 encoding. There are two Chinese audio tracks, DD 1.0 (192Kbps) and LPCM 48Khz/16 bits 2 channels. If you like you can play the film without the English subtitles.

There are a couple of extras on the disc. Screen Legend: The Magic of King Hu (21 min, 17 sec), a video essay by David Cairns and Tony Rayns: Legend of the Mountain (21 min, 27 sec). You also get a stills gallery and the original trailer.

The film was surprisingly engaging and apart from the occasions when the pace slowed from languid to snail the ghost story remained effectively creepy.


Charles Packer

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