Legend of the Mountain (1979) **** | Eureka bluray release

March 3rd, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir/Writer/Costume Designer: King Hu | Cast: Chun Shih, Feng Hsu, Sylvia Chang, Lin Tung, Feng Tien, Ng Ming Tsui, Hui Lou Chen, Rainbow Hsu | China | Drama | 192′

Born in Beijing in 1931, actor, writer and director King Hu left the mainland for Hong Kong in 1949 where he worked with the Shaw Brothers, later pioneering early wuxia fare such as Cannes winner A Touch of Zen, and this lesser known but bewitching fantasy ghost story.

After a coy start Legend of the Mountain is soon all over you like a slinky cheongsam if you surrender to its seductive charms and over-indulgent running time where the director’s slack editing often emphasises atmosphere and scenery over plot. But this stunning fantasy epic does have moments of palpable tension – such as the impressive drumming scene. Hu’s cypher-like characters also leave us intrigued and bemused rather than engaged in their eventual plight in the mysterious often perilous garden of Eden. The evergreen allegory for good and evil echoes the tradition of Japanese ghost stories like Ugetsu. Luminous set pieces and glowing imagery provide a magnificent backdrop to the feisty performances from duplicitous characters, led by Taiwanese actor Chun Shih (The Assassin) as naive scholar Qingyun who heads off to a remote mountain retreat on a mission to copy an ancient religious document (a sutra) for some Buddhist monks. This sutra has the redemptive power to release lost souls of the dead, but Qingyun is unaware of its intrinsic value, and how he is about to be manipulated.

After a long journey (30 minutes of the film’s 191′ running time), he eventually meets his host, Tsui (Lin Tung), in a vast abandoned fortress where things are clearly not what they seem: distant figures loom and disappear in the misty hilltops. The lulling effects of the mountain idyll are soon punctured by a brusque outburst from a sinister occupant, the forthright harridan Madam Wang (Rainbow Hsu) who browbeats Qingyun into tutoring her daughter Melody (Feng Hsu), soon after his arrival.  Clearly the pair have a hidden agenda, and during a home-cooked supper and cocktails Qingyun is regaled by Melody’s musical talents – she specialises in ‘percussion’ and magically mesmerises him into a dreamlike state, awaking the next morning to discover he is under the siren’s spell and betrothed to be married. But marriage is not the only thing on Madam Fang’s mind. Switching between charm and deceit Rainbow and Feng make for a unsettling pairing in Paradise but Qingyun has some protection through his sacred prayer beads. Good is represented in the final hour by his meeting with Cloud (Sylvia Chang) as his struggle with evil forces. Magic and deceit are cleverly expressed through the medium of musical instruments, as opposed to today’s ubiquitous use of tawdry CGI. Fascinating to watch Legend remains an epic visual spectacle, along the lines of traditional Chinese Opera, or Xiqu, dating back over more than a thousand years, incorporating music, song and martial arts, and where the legendary characters are household names in China, MT




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