This month via The Criterion Collection: Dragon Inn. That’s pretty much all you need to know. I went nuts over A Touch of Zen, King Hu’s other grand wuxia film, back in July of 2016, when Criterion added that one to their library and I wrote about the release, though apparently my writing on the matter never published on Paste Magazine‘s digital pages for whatever reason. So: Here that is, as a bonus!
If, upon scouring the keepcase for A Touch of Zen’s Criterion release, you stumble across and feel immediately intimidated by the film’s total running time, accept these words of advice: Don’t be. Three hours is a hell of a time investment, but wuxia master King Hu is as deft behind the camera as his actors are athletic in front; you will be so hypnotized by the poetry of his filmmaking and by the precision of his cast that you’ll hardly feel a minute of A Touch of Zen’s duration as you sit transfixed to your screen. It’s a rare embarrassment that the best action movie of 2016 was actually made in 1971, but that’s more a testament to Hu’s authorial skill and to his vision as an aesthete than it is a knock against contemporary action. Films like A Touch of Zen are made only rarely, even if a modern wuxia connoisseur might find elements of its plot and action, particularly its near-magical depiction of swordplay, more than a little familiar. You’ve seen movies like A Touch of Zen before, but only because they would never have existed without A Touch of Zen. For fans of the style and genre, Hu’s epic masterwork – the rare epic masterwork that actually deserves the label – is a must.
Beats me why this never ran, but it’s great, so you’re welcome. (And you can check out July ’18’s Criterion round-up at Paste.)