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Director King Hu’s 170min long epic, ‘A Touch of Zen’, (1971) contains the requisite historical martial arts costume drama elements. Early examples of wire stunt work, fights in bamboo treetops, sweeping landscapes of water, desert and  forests, heroic outlaws on the run from the law, and… a touch of zen…in the form of a coterie of saffron robed monks who step in to assist the plot. They demonstrate without weapons, but almost supernatural fighting prowess and calm, that non-violence is preferable to killing. It’s easy to see the influence on modern-day movies such as ‘Crouching Tiger’, ‘Hero’, and ‘House of Flying Daggers’, also the work of Quentin Tarantino. With lots of good fights and show-downs, well executed cameo parts, stylish pacing and editing and a stunning lead swords-woman, there’s lots to enjoy. The slow, quiet pacing is worth it for the set pieces. Like a river, it meanders for a while, then a new character or phase enters, rewarding the patient viewer. The music is good too. Well worth sourcing the entire film in a local library or on the internet.

Most pleasing in all this is the sheer charisma and screen presence of the female lead, played by Hsu Feng (whom George Lucas and Akira Kurosawa would have loved for her Princess Leia qualities). With smouldering determination, she fights hard, hacking, slashing and winning, using close range short sword and slightly Wing Chun style combat. Chasing opponents down if necessary and still standing by the end. This clip here is not the best showcase of her specific skills, her best one-to-one fights being in the first half of the film.

Hsu Feng starred in over 33 films and also produced  7 films, including the remarkably beautiful ‘Farewell To My Concubine’ in 1993.

King Hu made his last film in 1992 and died in 1997. Enjoy this clip…

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