Cult Movie: King Hu's classic 'fantasy masterpiece' Legend Of The Mountain

Legend of The Mountain combines traditional Chinese ghost story atmospherics and full-blown Zen Buddhist philosophy

Legend Of The Mountain

CHINESE director King Hu kick started his cinematic career under the creative umbrella of the legendary Shaw Brothers in the late 50s.

He scored his first directorial hits with the likes of Come Drink With Me and Dragon Inn, both now rightly revered as martial arts classics, but reached an early career crossroads when he unveiled A Touch Of Zen in 1971.

A visually stunning, artistically sprawling three hour epic in the game-changing wuxia genre that Hu had actually started to make in 1968, it was chopped into two segments for release and confused and disappointed as many as it entertained.

With his creative projects apparently stalled in his homeland, he was forced to look to Korea – where tax breaks were available – for funding.

Firstly he made another epic and very personal production Raining On The Mountain, but since government laws insisted on a two picture deal he was forced into making another film immediately upon completion.

You could have forgiven the director for chopping out a quick, half-hearted production to make up that quota, but what King Hu actually turned in was one of the most beautiful and deep films of his entire career.

Legend Of The Mountain (1979) is a vast, complex masterpiece of fantasy film making. The latest Blu-ray release in Eureka's ongoing Masters Of Cinema series it looks astonishing and, with its combination of traditional Chinese ghost story atmospherics and full-blown Zen Buddhist philosophy, it makes for an almost over-powering movie experience today.

Ho Yunqing (Shih Jun) is a fresh-faced student who is sent by an esteemed monk to transcribe a Buddhist sutra that is said to have immense power over the spirits of the undead.

As he goes about his job in the peace and quiet of a remote fort deep in the mountains he comes face to face with a whole range of mysterious characters, including the beautiful Melody (Hsu Feng) and a whole raft of evil spirits hell-bent on stealing the sutra away.

Before he knows it, Ho is embroiled in a battle to the death with the warring forces of good and evil as he tries to leave the mountain with his soul intact.

Based on a Song Dynasty folk tale, Legend Of The Mountain isn't always an easy watch in 2018. The dreamlike atmosphere is dense and the philosophical meanderings a trifle pretentious.

However, none of that matters when you wallow in the sheer visual beauty on show here. King Hu has a craftsman's eye for the natural environment and watching him play with light and smoke in the great wide open is a treat in itself.

Sadly, when Hu's film arrived on cinema screens in 1979, its luxurious running time of three hours saw it scythed cynically in two again – but thankfully this Masters Of Cinema reissue restores it to the full original running time and presents it in a 4K restoration that is genuinely stunning.

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