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"Zen and Sense in King Hu's Films" showcases film master's cinematic and artistic talents (with photos)

     The masterpieces "Dragon Inn", "Come Drink with Me", "A Touch of Zen", "Raining in the Mountain" and "Legend of the Mountain" all showcase director King Hu's manifold and globally recognised cinematic achievements. Hu's unique form of costumed action genre film blended with Peking opera's acrobatic movements not only took action choreography and film editing to new heights but also created a unique and stylish film language that has influenced many filmmakers to follow. His sensitivity in Chinese ink painting is often portrayed in his films, which artistically combine Buddhism and philosophy and feature stunning visuals. In addition to delivering brilliant directorial works, Hu was also an outstanding actor and a prominent artist of watercolour paintings, sketches, calligraphy and cartoons.

     To commemorate Hu's 80th birthday, the Hong Kong Film Archive (HKFA) will present a retrospective, "Zen and Sense in King Hu's Films", from December 14 to March 17 next year to show all his directorial works, comprising 12 features from 1964 to 1993, two shorts and an unedited film, as well as 12 films that were made in the 1950s and the 1960s with Hu playing different roles alongside Lin Dai, Loh Ti, Li Lihua, Grace Chang and other stars. An exhibition, "Zen and Sensibility: Legend in King Hu's Drawing", and three seminars will also be held for a comprehensive appreciation of Hu's aesthetic accomplishments in directing, acting, painting and the arts as a tribute to this very important figure in Chinese cinema.

     The "Zen and Sensibility: Legend in King Hu's Drawing" exhibition will be held from December 14 to March 10 at the Exhibition Hall of the HKFA. It will offer a panoramic display of the great master's manuscripts and hand-drawn works rarely seen in Hong Kong before. The precious drawings include the colourful and lifelike designs of the unlaunched animation feature "Zhang Yu Boils the Sea", political cartoons, watercolour paintings, sketches, design drawings, Chinese ink paintings, calligraphy and more. The magnificent collection will present a seldom seen look at the painterly and artistic talents of the legendary film auteur. Admission is free.

     Great support from the Taipei Film Archive in loaning some precious archival items, drawings, calligraphy and film copies as well as the contributions of many filmmakers including Sha Yung-fong, Shih Chun, Cheng Pei-pei, Feng Yusong and others have contributed to the success of the retrospective. Director Tsui Hark has specially commemorated the programme with his Chinese calligraphy.

     To complement the screenings and the exhibition, the HKFA will hold three seminars to foster appreciation of Hu's different artistic talents. The seminar "Essence of King Hu's Drawings" will be held on December 16 at 4pm after the screening of "Come Drink with Me". Film critic Law Kar, director of animation for "Zhang Yu Boils the Sea" Feng Yusong and film critic and animator Keeto Lam will elaborate on Hu's art pieces and his aesthetics of image composition. On January 13 at 4.30pm after the screening of "Swordsman", the film's art director, James Leung, and the costume director of "Painted Skin", Edith Cheung, will discuss Hu's aesthetics at the seminar "The Aesthetics of King Hu's Costumes and Sets". On January 19 at 4pm after the screening of "The Long Lane", film critics Thomas Shin and Cecilia Wong will share their views on Hu's acting accomplishments at the seminar "King Hu's Acting". All seminars will be conducted in Cantonese with free admission.

     King Hu's life is a legend in itself. At age 17 in 1949, he arrived in Hong Kong and worked in various occupations including proofreading at a printing company and set decoration. He subsequently acted in more than 36 films playing minor to key roles. In his work as director, his costumed action genre opened up new approaches to film framing and composition, while his detailed mise-en-scene and editing, the nimble space division and stylistic poetic action design, as well as meticulous demands on sets and costumes, resulted in a film language that is overtly enticing. "Xia" and Zen are two significant concepts in Hu's cinema. With stunning visuals, his works show Buddhist philosophy with messages on morals and enlightenment.

     The screening programme "Zen and Sense in King Hu's Films" will show Hu's 15 directorial works. His first written and directed film, "The Story of Sue San" (1964), is not an example of his commonly known action work but a musical - a "huangmei diao" co-ordinated by Li Han-hsiang and executed by Hu. His independent directorial debut "Sons of Good Earth" (1965) revolves around the lives of the grass roots. The film was very well made but performed poorly at the box office. He therefore made the lower-budget movie "Come Drink with Me" (1966), starring Cheng Pei-pei and Yueh Hua, for Shaw Brothers and gave a fresh vision for the genre. The classic "Dragon Inn" (1967) then opened up a new approach for action films.

     "A Touch of Zen" (1971), which is considered Hu's defining work, won the Technical Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. The fights, the sets, the stunning action sequence in a bamboo forest and the unique rhythmic editing style show the creative peak of the film master. Another fascinating and gripping film, "Raining in the Mountain" (1979), was shot in Korea concurrently with "Legend of the Mountain (1979), which brings out the Eastern aesthetic ideal of man at one with nature. "A Touch of Zen" and "Raining in the Mountain" will be screened with longer versions while "Legend of the Mountain" will be shown in the original three-hour version.

     Made after the success of "A Touch of Zen", Hu's inn-set movie "The Fate of Lee Khan" (1973) shows his impeccable talent in creating drama out of a single setting. Starring Hsu Feng, his distinctive film "The Valiant Ones" (1975) was shot mostly in deserted island and countryside locations and features Chinese opera drum effects. "All the King's Men" (1983) is a brilliant work from the 1980s with cinematic fun and examining ancient politics. Directors Hu, Li Hsing and Pai Ching-jui jointly produced "In Four Moods", with Hu directing the second dazzling episode, "Anger" (1970). Thirteen years later, the three directed the trilogy "The Wheel of Life" (1983), focusing on three lives and three love affairs occurring at different times. Hu's first episode, though short, was riveting. Leading actor Shih Chun won the Best Actor award at the 28th Asia Pacific Film Festival.

     In the Tsui Hark production "Swordsman" (1990), Hu is a director in name only and mostly responsible for the set and costume design. An adaptation from "Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio", Hu's "Painted Skin" (1993) was his first work made in Mainland China. With his experimental spirit, he tried out bold camera angles and shot compositions. Starring Sylvia Chang, "The Juvenizer" (1981) is Hu's only contemporary film, with a portrayal of modern people chasing prosperity at all costs. Not to be missed is the 20-minute unedited "The Uncrowned Queen" (1979), shot during a trip to the Vienna Film Festival with Sylvia Chang. The film will be shown with free admission.  

     With his short height and child-like face, Hu stood out in supporting roles in a number of comedies. The 12 films showcasing his acting talents include "Golden Phoenix" (1956), which affirmed his status as a character actor thanks to his playing a scabby boy with a stammer and a crush on the beauty Lin Dai; Li Han-hsiang's "Blood in Snow" (1956), in which he plays a short, bony street artist; and "The Long Lane" (1956), featuring Hu's favourite role as a spoiled son who turns to gambling. In "Humiliation for Sale" (1958), Hu acted as a 12- to 13-year-old kid brother of Lin Dai, while in his representative work "The Deformed" (1960) he was the freckled, buck-toothed hunchback playing the beast alongside the beauty Loh Ti. He plays the hilarious barman in "The Kingdom and the Beauty" (1959) and the lively funny chap chasing around girls in the romantic comedies "Cha Cha Girl" (1957) and "Stranger than Fiction" (1963). He is a dejected businessman in "My Lucky Star" (1963) and the rogue cop in "The Swallow Thief" (1961), and he performs brilliant supporting roles in "Love Parade" (1963) and "The Dancing Millionairess" (1964). "Cha Cha Girl", "The Swallow Thief", "My Lucky Star" and "Stranger than Fiction" have not been shown on the silver screen for years.

     All films are in Mandarin except "Swordsman" and "Painted Skin", which are in Cantonese. "Humiliation for Sale", "Golden Phoenix", "The Long Lane", "Cha Cha Girl" and "The Uncrowned Queen" are without subtitles. "All the King's Men" has English subtitles, "The Deformed" has Chinese subtitles, and all the other films are provided with Chinese and English subtitles.

     Tickets are priced at $40. For screenings in December and January, tickets are available now at URBTIX outlets. For screenings in February and March, tickets will be available from January 9. Credit card booking can be made on 2111 5999 or on the Internet at

     Programme information and details on discounts can be found in the leaflet "ProFolio 66" distributed at all performing venues of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. For enquiries, please call 2739 2139/2734 2900, or browse

Ends/Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Issued at HKT 19:40


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