XL Popcorn – A Touch of Zen

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 743/1007Title: Xia Nü (A Touch of Zen)
Director: King Hu
Year: 1971
Country: Taiwan

Since we had a late birthday event to go to today, there was this big window of time to fill in between having finished cleaning the house and then leaving it. Why not fill this window with the longest film left on the list – a wuxia film that clocks in at over three hours, which would extend my run of 1001 films not in the English language.

Right, so let’s rip off the plaster immediately. This film was too long. A long film is fine when you have the story and the set pieces to fill it up, but A Touch of Zen just didn’t for me. Had this been half an hour shorter and they had done some tightening on some of the scenes where they linger just that bit too long – then this would have been truly great.

In fact, the first hour has no fight sequences in it (instead the focus is on world building and character introduction) and it worked really well. It’s actually when the plot got going where things started to feel just a bit too thin. The evolution of the male lead from unambitious painter to some sort of tactical mastermind felt a little strange, as did the romance that developed between him and his princess-in-hiding.

The thing is, when A Touch of Zen got me interested, it got be very very interested. However, this was too interspersed with some overlong ‘intrigue’ sections and then suddenly we have a fighting incarnation of Buddha that bleeds gold and has some amazing back-lighting. Seriously, the final 25 minutes of this film takes such a left turn towards the religious that it feels like the writer and/or director must have had a near-death experience during filming.

With all this being said, I cannot deny that A Touch of Zen is a good film. There are some brilliantly executed scenes, especially the fight in the haunted house, and the fights are very well choreographed. Thing is, there is a reason that wuxia films aren’t this long. All the promise and interest got me lost along the way and I’m left a bit angry and disappointed that this couldn’t have been better had they decided to edit.

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