Legend of the Mountain

LEGEND OF THE MOUNTAIN
(SHAN-CHUNG CH'UAN-CH'I) 1971

Director: King Hu

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl



With such a masterpiece as Touch of Zen to his credit, the late King Hu must be regarded as having been one of the greatest Chinese directors. But one would not think so from Legend of the Mountain.

It starts well enough with a scholar obtaining mystical sutra texts from a temple, which he has been hired to correct & polish as he makes a copy. Seeking a quiet place to concentrate on his work, he takes up residence in an evacuated military town not knowing that the people he is interacting with are spirits, some good, some bad. The bad ones want to obtain the power of the sutra; the good ones want to restrain the evil.

Our scholar (Shih Jun) is tricked into marriage with a beautiful woman who is secretly a powerful demoness (Hsu Feng). He is experiencing marital bliss without knowing he'll be killed the instant he finishes copying the sutra.

This is the very opposite of the wuxia genre of historical kung fu movie. It has no martial arts despite the type of setting from which one might expect swordplay. The story meanders with a strictly pictorial grace with long scenes of walking & gazing at vistas, & absolutely no action. It is pretty enough to be captivating even with nothing happening.

But when it comes time for the action-packed final reel, the story falls all to pieces. The sundry spirit-characters take turns being on screen, but it has no flow or logic, & nothing within the clutter of set pieces has any strength. The good spirits want to save the scholar from the powerful demoness. Essentially it is good magic vs black magic, which involves two priests & the "good girl" spirit (Sylvia Chang Ai-chia) throwing magic (or smoke) at the demoness while she throws magic (or smoke) right back at them. It often amounts to playing drums at each other, & it is boring as all hell.

When it's all over, we've no idea if the good girl spirit was reincarnated or what; she seems merely to have been destroyed with everything else, which would have been a very unsatisfying conclusion if any of it had managed to inspire the least interest in these characters.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl



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