King Hu’s A Touch of Zen


Stephen Teo

ISBN : 978-962-209-815-2

Film, Media, Fine Arts The New Hong Kong Cinema

November 2006

196 pages, 5.5″ x 7.5″, 36 b&w illus.

  • HK$195.00

A Touch of Zen is one of the first Chinese-language films to gain recognition in an international film festival (the Grand Prix at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival), creating the generic mould for the “crossover” success of Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon in 2000. The film has achieved a cult status over the years but little has been written about it. This first book-length study of the classic martial arts film therefore redresses its critical neglect, and explores its multi-leveled dimensions and mysteries. One of the central features of the film is the enigmatic knight-lady (xia nü) whose quest for revenge leads her to cross paths with a poor scholar whose interest in military strategy seals their alliance. Teo discusses the psychological manifestations and implications of this relationship and concludes that the film’s continuing relevance lies in its portrait of sexuality and the feminist desires of the heroine. Teo also analyzes the film’s form as an action piece and the director’s preoccupation with Zen as a creative inspiration and as a subject in its own right. As such, he argues that the film is a highly unconventional and idiosyncratic work which attempts to transcend its own genre and reach the heights of universal transcendence. Teo grounds his study in both Western and Chinese literary sources, providing a broad and comprehensive treatise based on the film’s narrative concepts and symbols.

Stephen Teo is a research fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, and a senior associate of the RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia. He has written numerous articles on Hong Kong cinema and other Asian cinemas. He is the author of Hong Kong Cinema: The Extra Dimensions (1997), and Wong Kar-wai (2005). His forthcoming book with Hong Kong University Press is Director in Action: Johnnie To and the Hong Kong Action Film.

“Stephen Teo has taught me—and continues to teach me—more about Hong Kong movies than any other writer. And he does this not by seeing them in isolation from the rest of cinema but by regarding them as a living part of an ever-changing whole.” —Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader