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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

XIA NÜ / A TOUCH OF ZEN (1971)

Even with a big, enthusiastic cult following, King Hu’s Chinese Martial Arts film, overlaid with a schmear of Buddhist philosophy, has been more influential then seen. At least Stateside. (CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON/’00 being the best known offspring.) Set in some distant feudal past, the story places a simple portrait painter, with a comic nagging mother, in the midst of a political war between masses of Imperial forces and a beautiful runaway daughter-of-the-court who’s rented the haunted house next door along with a couple of renegade generals. Naive, sentimental, monumental & sometimes too dark to tell what’s going on, the acclaimed film only partially holds up; and earns yawns with a three-hour running time. The big battle scenes, with the usual large forces of darkness against a handful of honorables, feature a lot of creative (and advanced for the time) acrobatic swordplay and wire-work for those impossible trampoline-worthy leaps. (It makes warfare look like a game of badminton played with gyroscoping human shuttlecocks.) Then a mystical finale that’s less Zen enlightenment than moral dodge.

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