NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: A TOUCH OF ZEN (King Hu, 1969)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Howard Gilman Theater
165 West 65th St. between Eighth Ave. & Broadway
Tuesday, October 2, 6:30
Festival runs through October 14
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-plus-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 on October 2 at 6:30 as part of the fifty-sixth New York Film Festival’s Retrospective tribute to Pierre Rissient, Cannes film scout, publicist, producer, distributor, etc., who believed, “It is not enough to love a film. One must love it for the right reasons!” Rissient passed away in May at the age of eighty-one; the sidebar also includes such other films that Rissient championed as Lino Brocka’s Manila in the Claws of Light, Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty for Me, Fritz Lang’s House by the River, and Joseph Losey’s Time without Pity.