|S E A R C H D V D B e a v e r|
A Touch of Zen aka "Xia nü" [Blu-ray]
(King Hu, 1971)
Review by Gary Tooze
Theatrical: Lian Bang
Video: Eureka - Masters of Cinema - Spine #130 / Criterion Collection Spine #825
Region: 'B'-locked/ Region 'A' (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)
Runtime: 2:59:36.348/ 2:59:58.829 (no intermission on either)
Disc Size: 47,592,888,829 bytes/ 47,454,814,572 bytes
Feature Size: 47,317,939,584 bytes / 34,427,031,552 bytes
Video Bitrate: 30.99 Mbps / 22.00 Mbps
Chapters: 17 / 31
Case: Transparent Blu-ray case
Release date: January 25th, 2016 / July 19th, 2016
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video
LPCM Audio Mandarin 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit
Scene Select Commentary:
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps
LPCM Audio Mandarin 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit
• Select scene commentary by critic and Asian cinema expert Tony Rayns (1:23:17)
• Trailer (1:43)
ON DVD (regions 2, 7, 8 - NTSC):
DVD of the film included
Documentary from 2012 about
director King Hu (47:59)
Description:Widely regarded as the greatest martial arts epic of all time, A Touch of Zen won awards worldwide (including at Cannes), smashed box-office records and had an incalculable influence on the genre as a whole.
An unambitious painter named Gu (Shih Jun) lives with his mother in the vicinity of an abandoned mansion rumoured to be haunted. In actuality, the mansion has become a hiding place for the warrior Yang (Hsu Feng) and her own mother, both taking refuge following the assassination of their loyal minister father by the wicked eunuch Wei of East Chamber. After the eunuch sends an army to pursue the escapees, the group fortify the mansion with traps and false intimations of the terrifying ghosts within. But even after, things take yet more unsettling turns...
Famed for its iconic set pieces, including the central bamboo forest battle, A Touch of Zen is one of cinema's truly peerless action sagas and the precursor par excellence of such modern wuxia films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers. The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present King Hu's masterpiece in a Limited Edition (2000 units) Three-Disc Dual Format edition for the first time in the UK.
An influential martial arts film and an acknowledged influence on Ang Lee's amazing Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, King Hu's A Touch of Zen opens with young scholar Ku Shen-chai working at his portraiture stand in a small frontier town. He lives with his nagging mother in a supposedly haunted, rundown house at the edge of the abandoned Ching Liu estate. One day, a stranger named Ou-Yang Yin asks for his picture to be painted, and then suddenly leaves. Soon, another stranger -- this time a beautiful woman named Yang Hui-Ching -- suddenly moves into the complex next door. The presence of these strangers has an increasingly unnerving effect on Ku, and he rightfully comes to believe that the entire town is involved in some bizarre political intrigue. After a night of passion between Ku and Yang, Ou-Yang Yin stages a surprise attack on the compound, which Yang surprisingly thwarts with dazzling aplomb. Yang reveals to him that her father was an honorable general executed due to the nefarious doings of the powerful Eunuch Wei. With the aid of General Shih and Lu (who pose as the town's blind beggar and herb vendor respectively), Yang was spirited away first to a monastery where she learned martial arts and then to Ku's remote corner of China. Ou-Yang Yin, Eunuch Wei's henchman, has in turn vowed to pursue her to the ends of the earth. As Ou-Yang Yin rallies Wei's army to the walled estate, Ku -- having spent a lifetime researching military history -- devises a brilliant strategy to crush the siege and win the heart of this most unusual woman.
King Hu's remarkable Ming Dynasty epic deliberately makes itself impossible to define, beginning as a ghost story, then turning into a political thriller, and finally becoming a metaphysical battle as the role of the monk Hui-Yuan (Chiao) comes to the fore. Structured like a set of Chinese boxes, twice forcing you to expand your frame of reference and reassess the meaning of what you've seen, it begins with a realistic portrait of life in a sleepy town outside Peking, and ends with extended fantasies of Zen Buddhism in action - and in between has a core of action scenes that transform Peking Opera stagecraft into sheer flights of imagination. Delights include a heroine who holds her own with men without being 'masculine', and transcendent moments like the stabbing of the monk, who bleeds gold... And the visual style will set your eyes on fire.
Image : NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
A Touch of Zen is absolutely gorgeous on Blu-ray from The Masters of Cinema group in the UK. The image quality shows a film-like thickness and colors are wonderfully realized via the 1080P. This 3-hour film is housed on a dual-layered Blu-ray with a very high bitrate. The film starts with this text screen:
It also state "The digital restoration of this film is solely sponsored by Ms. Hsu Feng". It is neither glossy nor unnaturally sharp but shows some depth and black levels are pristine and as impressive as the colors. I would guess the restored 2.35:1 may be the best its has looked since its original theatrical run. There is no visible damage, speckles or marks. This Blu-ray offers a rich, mesmerizing 1080P presentation. Exceptional in so many ways.
The Criterion is from the same restoration and starts with the same screen above. I can't see much difference via their dual-layered disc although the Criterion states that this is a "4K digital restoration" but it is less technically robust than the Master of Cinema transfer which has a higher bitrate (not sharing their BD disc with many extras). I watched the entire film again and it looked just as good on my 60" system. If there are differences they are small. Colors are supported well. In-motion I might give a small edge to the UK transfer.
CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION
The audio is transferred via a linear PCM 1.0 channel mono channel track at 1152 kbps. It is authentically flat and has a lot of the traditional music and whiplash-like action effects we hear in otherWuxia-style efforts. The score is by Ta Chiang Wu (Hu's earlier Dragon Inn) and Tai Kong Ng (his own film credit) and the high-end is, predictably, a bit weak (as we find in much of these particular gene films) but is suitable to the film with occasionally surprising depth. There are optional English subtitles and my Oppo has identified it as being a region 'B'-locked.
Ditto for the audio - Criterion duplicate with a linear PCM mono track (24-bit) in the original Mandarin. It probably can't sound any better. There subtitle translation is slightly different (see sample above - slightly larger font too) and their Blu-ray disc is region 'A'-locked.
The lone Blu-ray, as well as
having the film, offers a select scene commentary (of almost 1.5 hours)
by critic and Asian cinema expert Tony Rayns filling in some highly
pertinent information regarding the production. It is as professional as
all his work is. The only other extra on the
is a trailer.
This may represent the biggest difference in the two Blu-ray packages. Criterion also include the, 48-minute, 2012 documentary about director King Hu but where the Masters of Cinema put in on the DVD (in SD), Criterion have it in 1080P sharing it on their dual-layered Blu-ray disc. Criterion add quite a bit more with new, self-produced, interviews with actors Hsu Feng (13:47) and Shih Chun (17:27), filmmaker Ang Lee (13:35) and an excellent 34-minutes with film scholar Tony Rayns. There is also a re-release trailer advertising 4K theatrical showings and the package has a liner notes booklet with an essay by film scholar David Bordwell and notes by Hu from a 1975 Cannes Film Festival press kit.
Masters of Cinema - Region 'B' - Blu-ray
Masters of Cinema - DVD
Criterion- Region 'A' - Blu-ray
Both packages are so impressive - as is the film experience. Both have immense value - Criterion, predictably, have alternate supplements and the a/v is jaw-dropping on both. I consider it another must-own and to buy the one best suited to your geographic region. I'm keeping a sealed copy on my shelf. This film represents the heights of this home theatre format, IMO.
January 19th, 2016
June 16th, 2016
About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 3500 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.
Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who
focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I
find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.
Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD
Gary W. Tooze
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