A cornerstone of the martial arts film genre, King Hu’s magisterial A Touch of Zen was the first Chinese movie to receive a prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Thanks to a pristine new restoration, this sprawling portrait of Ming Dynasty intrigue can now be rediscovered as both a work of breathtaking visual ingenuity and a uniquely philosophical (and female-oriented) take on the Chinese swordplay tradition. With limited resources, Hu meticulously recreates the vanished world of seventeenth-century feudal China, capturing its intricacies in the tale of a bumbling scholar who falls in love with a mysterious fugitive and helps defend her against the assassins on her trail.
For a program on our release of A Touch of Zen, available today on Blu-ray and DVD, we spoke with Academy Award winner Ang Lee, whose Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon bears the mark of Hu’s influence. In the clip below, Lee discusses the great director’s painstaking attention to poetic detail and his emphasis on mood over plot.