Legend Of The Mountain


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Legend Of The Mountain
"Notable for the extraordinary beauty of its settings."

Based on the work of Pu Songling and an ancient Taiwanese fairytale with cognates around the world, King Hu's 1979 epic Legend Of The Mountain tells the tale of an unwary scholar who falls for one of the oldest scams in the world but ends up in a lot more trouble than most of those who do so. Filmed in Korea, it's notable for the extraordinary beauty of its settings, enhanced by first class costume design and the director's talent for framing scenes. Over three hours long, it needs every bit of this beguiling imagery to keep viewers paying attention, though there's more going on in its rambling story than might be apparent at first glance.

Despite the Medieval setting, hero He Qingyun (Chun Shih) is a surprisingly modern character, a scholar who has fallen short of his ambitions and gets by through freelancing as a copyist. He's not religious and entertains no belief in the supernatural, but he's not one to turn down good money either, so when he's asked to work on an obscure Buddhist sutra he readily agrees, even though it means a journey to a remote fortress which, as it turns out, is in a sort on no man's land between two temporarily peaceful factions. In the fortress he meets a young woman who, with the connivance of her mother and his host gets him very drunk; the next day, she tells him that they slept together and he promised her lifelong devotion. It's a trick, of course, but he naively agrees to marry her. As it turns out, she's not just another pregnant woman anxious to find a husband - her motives are much darker, and his life may be at stake.

Copy picture

A story full of ghosts and demons, with supernatural combat featuring wire work that bridges the gap between the increasingly silly martial arts films of the period and the wuxia fantasies whose descendents remain popular today, Legend Of The Mountain has two leading female characters who are remarkably forceful for the period - the scheming Melody (Hsu Feng) and the sweet but perhaps equally dangerous Cloud (Sylvia Chang). It mingles fairytale elements with noirish scheming and a very Chinese form of wacky comedy which may or may not hit the spot for Western audiences. Its visual style is both referential (often drawing on films from the West) and influential, and although it's quite different from most of King Hu's work (with the exception of Raining In The Mountain, which was shot back to back with it in the same location), it contains much that will fascinate his fans.

There is a shorter cut of this film available which doesn't cut out much by way of plot. The full length version captures the sense of epic fantasy as King Hu intended and allows for more appreciation of the landscape, but some may find it too slow. It includes musical interludes important to the interwoven themes of music and magic, brought to life by Ta Chiang Wu's inventive score, which is worth enjoying in full.

Reviewed on: 18 Mar 2018
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A travelling scholar is assigned the task of translating a Buddhist scripture for a ceremony honouring dead soldiers. On his journey through the haunting mountain landscapes, he encounters temptress ghosts and Taoist priests, ancient abandoned fortresses and inns.
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Director: King Hu

Writer: King Hu

Starring: Chun Shih, Feng Hsu, Sylvia Chang

Year: 1979

Runtime: 184 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: Taiwan, Hong Kong


Glasgow 2018

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