Masters of Cinema Review: Legend of the Mountain
The director's cut of King Hu's masterpiece Legend of the Mountain
has been restored as part of Eureka's Masters of Cinema series - and if you have the temperament and attention span to brave this over-three-hours epic, you're in for a treat.
Ho Yunqing (Shih Jun), a young scholar and copyist is tasked with copying a Buddhist sutra that's believed to hold immense power. He travels to an isolated monastery in search of peace and quiet to complete his work and encounters a number of strange individuals - such as the mysterious and beautiful Melody (Hsu Feng). Ho is caught in a struggle between the forces of good and evil, both of which seek the sutra.
Legend of a Mountain
is, in a word, beautiful. The colorful, picturesque scenery and lush vegetation are truly eye-popping, especially now that they've been wonderfully restored. Visually, this is a movie that constantly lights up the screen and its gorgeous presentation makes the arguably excessive length feel much less like an endurance test.
Ho is a deeply unmemorable protagonist and easily the least interesting character in the story. The first hour or so, which leisurely introduces the characters and focuses a lot on Ho traveling and asking for directions is quite tedious and will most likely test your patience.
In the second hour, things start to pick up, as characters' allegiances and plans slowly begin to be revealed and Ho takes more of a backseat. Legend of the Mountain
really picks up in its final hour, when good and evil fight one another with magic and flashbacks delve even deeper into the backstories of the characters that are actually interesting.
The movie's take on magic consists of intense, hypnotic drumming, lots of smoke and people flailing their arms about or falling over dramatically. It's undeniably cheesy, but that's part of the charm and it is interesting to see ways in which magic was portrayed in cinema before the advent of CGI. One especially neat trick was reversing footage of smoke to make it look like it's actually characters using magic to move around.
Your enjoyment of Legend of the Mountain
depends entirely on how patient you are its runtime. The leisurely pace could either make for a laid-back, relaxed viewing experience or a truly frustrating slog not worth any amount of pretty landscapes. For posterity's sake, it's nice to have a restoration of the director's cut, but it might have been nice if the edited theatrical cut or an alternative, shorter version was included here as well.
The movie's length will undoubtedly be too much of a hurdle for some, which is a shame since there's clearly a lot to appreciate in Legend of the Mountain
. Eureka's dual-format release comes with a new video essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns, a new interview with Asian cinema expert Tony Rayns and a collector’s booklet featuring archival writing and imagery - the later was not available for review.
If you're not put off by its runtime, then Legend of the Mountain
is definitely well worth tracking down and seeing. It's a remarkable film in many ways and a fine addition to Eureka's Masters of Cinema collection.
The dual format Legend of the Mountain restoration comes out March 19, 2018.