Sunday, November 27, 2011

494. Hsia Nu/A Touch of Zen (1969)

Running Time: 187 minutes
Directed By: King Hu
Written By: King Hu, Songling Pu
Main Cast: Hsu Feng, Shih Jun, Pai Ying, Roy Chiao, Tien Ping


As I mentioned the other day, at the end of my "Come Drink with Me" review, I moved "A Touch of Zen" to the top of my Netflix queue, so that I could treat King Hu like a band-aid and rip him off with one, quick motion. I wish that motion had been a little quicker...

With a running time of over three hours, "A Touch of Zen" tells the tale of several key characters. The film starts out following Ku Shen-chai (Jun), a less than ambitious scholar, who spends his days at his studio drawing portraits and doing calligraphy. His mother hounds him day in and day out to make something of his life and become a well respected official, but Ku brushes off these notions. When a young woman, Yang Hui-ching (Feng) moves into the supposedly haunted mansion near Ku's house, he becomes almost obsessed with her. When Ku's mother tries to set-up a date between Ku and Yang, she denies the offer. Eventually Ku and Yang do become "friendly" though and this forces Yang to tell Ku her history and how her family was brutally murdered by imperial enemies. Yang is the last of the family to escape execution and she's on the run. Now, Ku feels obligated to help her and with the enlistment of a few allies, Yang and Ku try to fight back against enemy.

One could argue that I probably already had the opinion formed that I wasn't going to like this movie, before I even popped it into my DVD player and watched it and honestly, that may be kind of right. The film "Come Drink with Me" was so far from being "up my alley" that it was just really hard to get excited for another King Hu film, one that had a similar plot (a woman out for vengeance). When it arrived in the mail from Netflix and I got a look at it's length, I was really dreading it, but like I've had to do other times on my journey, I sucked it up and went on with it. At times, in the past, when I've had to suck it up and watch something I didn't want to, it worked out in the end. This time - not so much. I will give King Hu a little credit, as this time I could really see the effort being poured out on to the screen. As much as "A Touch of Zen" also wasn't up my alley, I still found the three hour running time to go by at a nice pace and there weren't too many "watch the clock" moments.

I can say that no other director has had the ability to put me to sleep quite like King Hu does. There were numerous times throughout the picture that I nodded off, only to wake up, having to rewind the film and catch what I missed. The story was, at times, extremely drawn out. The first forty minutes of the film go something like this: Ku awakens, goes to his studio, comes home, gets nagged by his mother and spends his night inspecting the haunted next-door house. That cycle runs through at least twice and nearly eats up forty minutes of screen time! If you want to bring up the great cinematography, then I'll tell you that it was "so-so", unless you're talking about the fight scene in the woods, then I'll tell you that it was brilliant. I had heard so many gushing stories about the "beautiful camerawork" in this movie and really that's the only scene that wowed me, the rest looked it's age and was unimpressive, in my opinion.

In retrospect, maybe I shouldn't have watched the two King Hu movies back to back. I know when I look back on them, both this and "Come Drink with Me" are going to get confused in my mind and their both going to end up getting balled together and placed in the round file of my filmic brain. I give the film a few points for not totally boring me into oblivion, but ultimately this gets added to that long list of "not for me" movies. Otherwise, if this type of thing is your cup of tea, then I'm sure "A Touch of Zen" would be a great film for you.

RATING: 4/10 Well, I can't say I'm sad to see King Hu films finished, as far as my journey is concerned.


November 27, 2011 8:20pm

1 comment:

  1. Well, I struggled to stay awake and thrilled by this one as well. (I carn't get 'drink with me' here). I like and enjoy 'world' cinema, but this stle of Chinese ones I'm afraid are a tad beyond by bridge over the culture gap. I find the same with Indian cinema - especialy Ray (No, not me, The Apu series)the same. Stunning camera work.. but oh so lingering. (And I cope well with long, slow films generaly)


SINS OF OMISSION - Entry #66: La piscine/The Swimming Pool (1969)

Running Time: 120 minutes Directed By: Jacques Deray Written By: Jean-Claude Carriere, Jacques Deray, Alain Page Main Cast: Alain Del...