Story of a Film: A Touch of Zen
While the Far East martial arts films spread all around the world, the popularity of wuxia movies remained only in China. The fanciful, stylised, costume wuxia movies tell stories about supernatural vagrant swordsmen who fight against injustice in places that are beyond control of official authorities. The world’s most famous genre representative is the award-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). However, this global hit, directed by Ang Lee, only pays a humble tribute to the master of wuxia genre, King Hu, and his magnum opus, A Touch of Zen (1971).
King Hu was a Chinese director who won recognition for his production in the Hong Kong’s film studio Shaw Brothers. For the lack of independence, he soon moved to Taiwan where he made his second authorial genre film, A Touch of Zen. Yet, the modern style of wuxia films was established in his earlier movies, Come Drink with Me (1966) and Dragon Gate Inn (1967), in which he abandoned the magic, fantasy tall stories and focused on female heroes and a unique elliptic style of fight scenes.
A Touch of Zen is the most perfect, uncompromising demonstration of Hu’s attitude to genre film. This strictly Chinese work, carrying aesthetic features of Peking operas, is a modern interpretation of wuxia novels and horror folklore uplifted with the director’s detached view and Buddhist thoughts.
Jiří Flígl is a programming director at Kino Aero and Bio Oko, former programmer of the Asian sections, festival advisor at Filmasia, Febiofest or KVIFF, founder and editor of Rejže.cz, a website dedicated to Far East cinema, and a contributor to the Cinepur or A2 magazines.