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A Touch of Zen

Film poster
Directed by King Hu
Produced by Jung-Feng Sha
Shiqing Yang
Written by King Hu
Starring Hsu Feng
Shih Jun
Pai Ying
Roy Chiao
Release date(s) November 18, 1971 (Hong Kong)
Running time 187 min
Country Taiwan
Language Mandarin

A Touch of Zen (traditional Chinese: 俠女pinyin: xiá nǚ) is a 1971 wuxia film directed by King Hu, and made in Taiwan. The movie won significant critical acclaim and became the first Chinese action film ever to win a prize at the Cannes Film Festival, winning the Technical Grand Prize award.

Although filming began in 1969, A Touch of Zen wasn't completed until 1971[1] and has a running time of over three hours, making it an unusually epic entry in the wuxia genre.



The story is largely seen through the eyes of Ku (played by Shih Jun) who is a well meaning but unambitious scholar and painter, with a tendency towards being clumsy and ineffectual. A stranger arrives in town wanting his portrait painted by Ku, but his real objective is to bring a female fugitive back to the city for execution on behalf of the East Chamber guards. The fugitive, Yang (played by Hsu Feng), is befriended by Ku and together they plot against the corrupt Eunuch Wei who wants to eradicate all trace of her family after her father attempts to warn the king of the eunuch's corruption.

One of the unique aspects of the film is that Ku is a non-combatant all the way through the film and only becomes involved when he sleeps with Yang. Upon doing so, he is no longer the naïve bumbling innocent, but instead becomes confident and assertive, and when Yang’s plight is revealed, he insists on being part of it – and even comes up with a fiendish "Ghost Trap" for the East Chamber guards. This is plan to use a supposedly haunted site to play tricks on the guards to make believe they are prey to the undead. In the aftermath, Ku walks through the carnage laughing at the ingenuity of his plan until the true cost of human life dawns on him.

After the battle, Ku is unable to find Yang, whom he is told has left him and does not want him to follow her. He tracks her down to the monastery of the saintly and powerful Abbot Hui Yuan (Roy Chiao), where she has given birth to a child by Ku and become a nun. She tells Ku that their destiny together has ended and gives Ku their child. Later, when Ku and the child are tracked down by the Hsu Hsien-Chen (Han Yin-Chieh), the evil commander of Eunuch Wei's army, Yang and Abbot Hui come to Ku's rescue. In the ensuing battles, Hsu is killed and Yang and Abbot Hui are badly injured (the latter bleeding golden blood). The film famously ends with the injured Yang staggering towards a silhouetted figure, presumably Abbot Hui, seen meditating with the setting sun forming a halo around his head, an image suggesting the Buddha and enlightenment.


  • Bai Ying — General Shih Wen-chiao
  • Billy Chan
  • Chang Ping-Yu
  • Roy Chiao — Hui Yuan (as Hong Qiao)
  • Han Hsue — Dr. Lu Meng
  • Han Ying-Chieh — Hsu
  • Hsu Feng — Yang Hui-ching
  • Lam Ching-Ying
  • Miao Tien
  • Shih Chun — Ku Shen Chai
  • Tien Peng
  • Tsao Chien


The film has been hailed for its cinematography, editing, and special effects, as well as its unusually thoughtful approach to the genre, with its strong thematic focus on Buddhism. The film makes strong use of symbolism throughout and is famous for its "abstract," open-ended finale. The motif of spiderwebs is often used to symbolize the tangled and sinister nature of the East Chamber and the evil Eunuch and the manipulative nature of Yang. Elsewhere, the film employs a dark, moody tone which enhances the sense of fantasy. Images of nature, the sun, and the use of lens flares are associated throughout with Buddhism and Abbot Hui's convent. The final battles between Hsu and Hui, which involve a number of mystical events, have been interpreted as a battle between Good and Evil or as a parable about Buddhist religious virtues, the evils of worldliness, and enlightenment.

The film was awarded the Technical Grand Prize and nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival.[2]

Featuring stunning settings and backdrops, A Touch of Zen has been influential upon many films, particularly Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Zhang Yimou’s House of Flying Daggers.


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