Legend of the Mountain
Legend of the Mountain, the 1979 epic from wuxia pioneer King Hu, gets a welcome Blu-ray release from Eureka Entertainment
Famous for an attention to detail that included designing his own costumes and waiting days for the right weather conditions, Beijing-born, Taiwan-based director King Hu also preferred being in the driving seat when it came to editing. As a result, his films are notable for their length. It's true of A Touch Of Zen, his influential 1971 “wuxia” (or swordplay) film, and it's true of this epic 1979 work, which clocks in at well over three hours.
There's no airborne fencing this time, but plenty else that defies rational explanation, not least the plot. Set in the 11th century and based on a Chinese ghost story, it turns on the adventures of wandering scribe He Qingyun (King Hu regular Chun Shih), sent to a desolate outpost to copy an ancient text with supernatural properties. There he meets the comedic Madam Wang (Rainbow Hsu), her glamorous daughter Melody (Feng Hsu, Chun Shih's co-star in A Touch Of Zen), and the equally alluring Cloud (Sylvia Chang, later a notable director in her own right). Of course, nobody is quite what they seem.
Factor in an orange-robed lama who duels with Melody using only a tambourine and a pair of cymbals, and a mysterious man in black called The Reverend, and you have a beguiling work packed with demons and ghosts who come and go in puffs of coloured smoke.
If it lacks the kinetic pizzazz of Hu's earlier “wuxia” films, it's just as visually stunning: Hu always was fond of camera flare, wide-angle framing and shafts of light piercing mists and fogs, and this 4K digital restoration returns his vision to its freshly-minted state. The languorous first two hours give on to a hallucinatory and magic-packed final act, and there's a neat closing twist that'll have you wanting to re-watch the opening scenes.
There's an entertaining and informative video essay by Edinburgh-based critic David Cairns in which he runs through the themes of the film and, in an observation about use of landscape, even stakes a claim for Star Wars: The Last Jedi having been made “squarely under the influence of King Hu”. Take that as you will. Elsewhere there's an equally fact-packed interview with critic and Asian film expert Tony Rayns, who knew the director. Other extras include a stills gallery and the original trailer.
Released by Eureka Entertainment