A Touch of Zen (known in Mandarin as Xia Nu) is a classic of the wuxia genre directed by King Hu, and was largely influential to pretty much all of the later works that would follow it, such as Crouching Tiger and House of Flying Daggers. It can also be considered an epic, and at 200 minutes long it certainly feels like it, especially with the film’s admittedly methodical pacing. If seeing it fully isn’t going to be your thing, the film comes in two parts, so it can be viewed over a couple days if need be.
The film’s slow and deliberate pace also applies to the story being told. It was quite a while before any real semblance of a plotline began to emerge; up until then, it was mostly suspicious occurrences noticed by the main character, without any explanation being set forth. Even the wuxia elements of the film took a good long while before they finally appeared. When they did, though, they were quite impressive for the age the film was made, and though they haven’t aged that well compared to modern takes on the genre, they’re still entertaining at the least. The color motifs used to theme the film are very washed out, as if the film itself were made of thin papyrus. Whether this was intentional or merely a product of the film technology of Taiwan of the times, I don’t know, but it made for a good period piece. The foley work got a bit distracting, however; all the footsteps and sandals became rather noticeable as the film went on, especially for lack of other sound effects through the majority of the picture.
The film picks up considerably in part two, despite the fact that a good chunk of the action takes place at night and thus is somewhat harder to see; plus, the sometimes choppy editing can screw with your perception a bit. The ending is also a little odd; the film takes on the pretenses of Buddhist imagery for the last 15-20 minutes or so, which may mess with a few viewers heads, as there is very little leadup to such a shift in mood of the film. I found it somewhat refreshing, but that is mostly for personal reasons, and your experience may vary; it really does come out of left field, and leaves the main plot as a whole largely unresolved, which will tick off more than a few viewers. Regardless, the film as a whole felt a little needlessly long, and there were some definite pacing issues, but it was otherwise decent enough. I can see how this influenced many a film afterwards, and I’ll be getting to the major one next. This’ll please film historians and people wanting a little more insight into Chinese/Taiwanese cinema.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10