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A TOUCH OF ZEN is a trippy journey toward enlightenment

A TOUCH OF ZEN (King Hu, 1969)
Film Society of Lincoln Center
Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th St.
Sunday, May 15, 7:00, and Thursday, May 19, 1:30
Series runs through May 19

Watching King Hu’s 1969 wuxia classic, A Touch of Zen, brings us back to the days of couching out with Kung Fu Theater on rainy Saturday afternoons. The highly influential three-hour epic features an impossible-to-figure-out plot, a goofy romance, wicked-cool weaponry, an awesome Buddhist monk, a bloody massacre, and action scenes that clearly involve the overuse of trampolines. Still, it’s great fun, even if it is way too long. (The film, which was initially shown in two parts, earned a special technical prize at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival.) Shih Jun stars as Ku Shen Chai, a local calligrapher and scholar who is extremely curious when the mysterious Ouyang Nin (Tin Peng) suddenly show up in town. It turns out that Ouyang is after Miss Yang (Hsu Feng) to exact “justice” for the corrupt Eunuch Wei, who is out to kill her entire family. Hu (Come Drink with Me, Dragon Gate Inn) fills the film with long, poetic establishing shots of fields and the fort, using herky-jerky camera movements (that might or might not have been done on purpose) and throwing in an ultra-trippy psychedelic mountain scene that is about as 1960s as it gets. A Touch of Zen is ostensibly about Ku’s journey toward enlightenment, but it’s also about so much more, although we’re not completely sure what that is. The film is screening May 15 and May 19 as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s “Taiwan Stories: Classic and Contemporary Film from Taiwan” series, which continues through May 19 with such classic works as Pai Ching-jui’s Home Sweet Home (1970), Li Xing and Li Jia’s Oyster Girl (1964), and Tsai Ming-liang’s Rebels of the Neon God (1992) as well as such more modern films as Doze Niu’s Monga (2008), Chen Wen-tang’s Tears (2009), and Chen Yu-Hsun, Hou Chi-jan, and Shen Ko-Shang’s Juliets (2010).

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