Jinquan "King" Hu (China, 1932)
was a specialist of wuxia movies.
He moved to Hong Kong as a teenager and started a career as an actor and assistant to Taiwanese director Li Han-Hsiang, notably for the musical
Liang Shanbo yu Zhu Yingtai/Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai /The Love Eterne (1963), an adaptation of the classic "Butterfly Lovers".
He debuted as a director with the war movie Sons of the Good Earth (1965),
about Chinese peasants fighting Japanese invaders
Da Zui Via/ Great Drunken Hero/ Come Drink with Me (1966) was his first wuxia, somewhere between Japan's samurai movies and Hollywood's Western movies.
Long Men Kezhan/ Dragon Inn (1967), made in Taiwan, was his biggest success.
The three-hour film
Xia Nu/ A Touch of Zen (1971), based
on the story “Xianu” from Songling Pu’s anthology "Liaozhai Zhiyi/ Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio",
was a more philosophical take on the same genre. It again features a woman warrior, a woman with an ever-shifting identity.
There are lengthy scenes of nature.
The film was originally made in two parts.
The story is set in the 14th century, during the Ming era.
In the morning, in a remote fort in the mountains, a man,
Sheng-zhai Gu, a letter writer and painter, opens his humble shop.
A stranger, Ouyang Nian, walks in and asks for a portrait. Gu is struck by his eyes.
Ouyang Nian suddenly leaves Gu's shop when he spots herbalist Lu passing by.
Ouyang Nian and sees that the stranger is in turn following the herbalist, hiding so the herbalist cannot notice.
Ouyang Nian then runs away when Buddhist monks appear.
Gu returns home to his widowed mother. He hears noise coming from the
haunted ruined palace known as "General's Mansion", but his mother rules out
that anyone could be living there.
His mother is unhappy that he doesn't want to take the exam for civil service,
to become a government official. She is disappointed that he is already past
30, not married and still poor.
Gu instead is studying only for the sake of knowledge and dreams of opening a school and becoming a teacher.
At night he explores the ruined palace but he only gets scared by thunder.
However, we see that Ouyang is also there.
The following day Ouyang returns for the portrait and mentions ghosts.
Gu gets convinced that a ghost lives in the ruined palace and follows instructions from a book of Daoist spells.
However, when he returns home, his mother has already discovered the "ghost",a
new neighbor, a beautiful woman named Hui-zhen Yang.
Gu's mother had learned that the girl lives with her
bedridden mother, single and poor. She immediately decides that Gu should marry Yang, who seems to be too poor to refuse even a poor prospect like Gu. The mother talks to Yang but Yang declines the marriage proposal.
Later, Ouyang shows up at Gu's place boasting that he can help Gu pass the
exam for civil service. Her mother gets excited but Gu still refuses.
On the way out Ouyang sees the blind fortune-teller Shi and tries to kill him.
The blind man is saved by the fact that Gu and his mother come out.
Ouyang flees. Yang comes to help clean the wounds of the blind man and, when Gu and his mother leave, we see
that the fortune-teller is not blind at all, that he is in cahoots with Yang, and that they both know Ouyang.
Yang denies to Gu knowing the fortune-teller.
Ouyang confronts Yang at the ruined palace, but she refuses to talk to him.
The following day Gu meets herbalist Lu and asks him if he knows Ouyang: Lu replies "no" but then we see that he talks to his grandson about Ouyang.
That evening Yang invites Gu at the ruined palace and seduces him.
In the morning Gu wakes up when Ouyang appears and orders Yang to follow him.
Suddenly the two pull out swords and engage in an acrobatic duel, both of
them demonstrating supernatural powers, while Gu watches in disbelief.
The following day Gu is summoned to the magistrate and asked to work on a poster about Yang: she is wanted by the authorities because her
father, an official, offended the grand eunuch of the emperor, Wei, and her whole family has been sentenced to die. Gu denies having seen her.
Just then an imperial inspector arrive to take over the search for Yang and Gu
Gu runs back home and dispatches his mother away.
Gu then wants to warn Yang but only finds the "blind" fortune-teller.
As they are chatting, they are attacked by two men: the "blind" man pulls out a sword and quickly disposes of the attackers. The "blind" man is another
superior warrior (and not blind at all).
Ouyang shows up and addresses the blind man as "General Shi".
Shi and Ouyang duel and Shi almost dies.
Yang shows up and tells Gu her story.
Her father, a court official, had prepared a report about eunuch Wei's corruption. He was
summoned to the emperor but it was a trick: Wei arrested him and tortured him to death.
Yang escaped two of her father’s loyal generals, Lu the fake herbalist and Shi the fake fortune-teller. They were chased by posse led by Ouyang, a secret agent of the eunuch.
They were saved by a group of Buddhist monks led by abbot Hui-yuan, who fought Ouyang and his men with supernatural powers. Yang stayed at the temple two years and
the monk taught them martial arms.
Gu learns that an army led by general Men Da is about to arrive and wants to
make sure that Ouyang cannot meet with the army.
Gu, Yang, Shi and Lu's grandson find Ouyang in a misty bamboo forest and Yang engages in a duel. Ouyang survives but, severely wounded, dies.
Gu comes up with a trap to destroy Men Da's army.
They lure him to the ruined palace by sending him a fake letter from Ouyang.
The army arrives at night.
Gu enlists his mother to spread the rumor that the
"General's Mansion" is haunted by ghosts.
(A screen split in six screens shows the villagers spreading the rumor).
The trick works and Men Da's army panics.
Yang, Lu and Shi attack the soldiers and exterminate them.
Yang personally kills Men Da.
When the sun rises, Gu surveys the massacre and laughs, proud that his trick worked.
However, he soon realizes that Lu is dead, and Yang is missing.
As he searches for her, he realizes the astronomical number of dead people.
A group of monks arrive, led by abbot Hui-yuan, and they proceed to bury the dead.
Gu's mother tells Gu that Yang doesn't want to see him anymore.
Gu instead looks for her in the mountains.
When he approaches a Buddhist monastery, a monk leaves a baby for him with a message from Yang: she has become a nun, and that baby is Gu's child.
We see that Yang is staring at Gu from the monastery, high in the mountain.
Gu begins the long trek back home, carrying the baby.
A peasant recognizes Gu as a wanted man and reports him to Wei's agents.
Yang and Shi have actually followed Gu and attack the agents, but are overcome,
as the agents have supernatural powers too.
Hui-yuan and four of his monks also arrive to fight alongside them.
The monks capture the commander of Wei's troops, Xu, and Hui-yuan tries to exorcise the evil within his soul.
One day later Xu pretends to have repented and converted, but it's a trick.
A new fight ensues during which
Yang, Shi and Hui-yuan are all wounded.
Hui-yuan bleeds golden blood, and then walks away in a halo of sunshine.
Xu does not dare chase him and instead sees hallucinations causing him to kill his own men and then kill himself jumping from a cliff.
Ying Chun Ge Zhi Fengbo/ The Fate of Lee Khan (1973)
Zhong Lie Tu/ The Valiant Ones (1975)
Kong shan ling yu/ Raining in the Mountain (1979)
Shan zhong zhuan qi/ Legend of the Mountain (1979)
Zhong Shen Da Shi (1981)
Tian Guan Ci Fu (1981)
Tian xia di yi/ All the King's Men (1983)
Siu ngo gong woo/ The Swordsman (1990)
Yin yang fa wang/ Painted Skin (1992)