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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

A Touch of Zen aka "Xia nü" [Blu-ray]

 

(King Hu, 1971)

 

 

Review by Gary Tooze

 

Production:

Theatrical: Lian Bang

Video: Eureka - Masters of Cinema - Spine #130 / Criterion Collection Spine #825

 

Disc:

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

 

Video (both):

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

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

 

Subtitles (both):

English, none

 

Extras:

• Select scene commentary by critic and Asian cinema expert Tony Rayns (1:23:17)

• Trailer (1:43)

ON DVD (regions 2, 7, 8 - NTSC):
King Hu 1932-1997, a 47-minute documentary on the director featuring interviews with colleagues, collaborators and historians (47:59)
Golden Blood, a new video essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns (17:37)
36-PAGE BOOKLET featuring Hu's director statement from the Cannes film festival a 1975 interview with King Hu by Tony Rayns; the original short story the film is based on; the eight characteristics of ''the swordswoman'' in King Hu's films; and archival images
.

DVD of the film included

 

Documentary from 2012 about director King Hu (47:59)
New interviews with actors Hsu Feng (13:47) and Shih Chun (17:27)
New interview with filmmaker Ang Lee (13:35)
New interview with film scholar Tony Rayns (34:05)
Trailer (1:41)
PLUS: An essay by film scholar David Bordwell and notes by Hu from a 1975 Cannes Film Festival press kit

 

Bitrate:

1) Masters of Cinema - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

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.

 

 

The Film:

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.

Excerpt from MRQE located HERE

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.

Excerpt fromTimeOut located HERE

 

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

1) Masters of Cinema - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

1) Masters of Cinema - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

1) Masters of Cinema - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

1) Masters of Cinema - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - TOP

2) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio :

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 other Wuxia-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.

 

 

Extras :

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 Blu-ray is a trailer.

But there are two DVDs - one (dual-layered - regions 2, 7, 8 - NTSC) with further supplements. King Hu 1932-1997 is a 48-minute documentary on the director featuring interviews with colleagues, collaborators and historians - iconic praise for Hu - and it is very educational and worth indulging. Also on this DVD is Golden Blood, a new 17.5-minute video essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns - and it too has fabulous value. A wonderful supplement in gaining background. The package has a second DVD of the film and has a 36-page liner notes booklet featuring Hu's director statement from the Cannes film festival a 1975 interview with King Hu by Tony Rayns; the original short story the film is based on; the eight characteristics of ''the swordswoman'' in King Hu's films; and archival images.

 

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

 

 

 

BOTTOM LINE:
A Touch of Zen is an amazing film - and has some gorgeous eye-candy. Its not only one of the best I have seen from this genre, but I could have taken 100s more screen captures. While the film is 3-hours, you really never want it to end. What a super release for Masters of Cinema to release on
Blu-ray. The 1080P presentation, alone, is worth the price for this film but the package with extensive booklet, select-scene commentary and full DVD of, two impressive, video extras makes it wholly under-valued purchase. It has our very strongest recommendation!

 

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.  

Gary Tooze

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.

Gary's Home Theatre:

60-Inch Class (59.58” Diagonal) 1080p Pioneer KURO Plasma Flat Panel HDTV PDP6020-FD

Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD Player
Momitsu - BDP-899 Region FREE Blu-ray player
Marantz SA8001 Super Audio CD Player
Marantz SR7002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver
Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

APC AV 1.5 kVA H Type Power Conditioner 120V

Gary W. Tooze

 

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