Wuxia's high-flying moments at Cannes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 May, 2011, 12:00am


1. A Touch of Zen (1975)

The first Chinese-language feature to win an award at Cannes (the Technical Grand Prize) and one of the most influential wuxia films of all time. A Touch of Zen not only represents Hong Kong and Taiwan-based director King Hu at the pinnacle of his career but is a true milestone with its blend of martial arts, philosophy and motion picture aesthetics.

2. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Although the genre has been around since the earliest days of Chinese films, it was Taiwanese director Ang Lee who brought wuxia to mainstream Western attention with this Qing-era drama. Shown out of competition at Cannes, the actioner went on to unprecedented box office and critical success in America and Europe, including an Oscar for best foreign-language film, but achieved only mild acclaim in its home territory, where viewers were more accustomed to wuxia fare.

3. Come Drink With Me (2002)

Better late than never, King Hu's first classic finally made it to Cannes in 2002, a mere 36 years after its initial release in 1966. The out-of-competition retrospective screening of the newly restored print testified to Hu's creativity when supported by Hong Kong's largest film factory, Shaw Brothers, at a brief, pivotal moment when the aspirations of auteur and studio were one.

4. House of Flying Daggers (2004)

Always a Cannes favourite, mainland director Zhang Yimou wowed 2004 festival-goers with his stunning tale of Tang-dynasty intrigue, his lush palette bringing shade and nuance to an epic rife with wuxia action and romance involving one of cinema's most attractive threesomes: Zhang Ziyi, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Andy Lau Tak-wah.

5. Ashes of Time: Redux (2008)

A decade and a half after its 1994 debut at the Venice Film Festival, Ashes of Time re-emerged in Cannes with a new score, new credit sequence and new colour scheme, and the word 'redux' added to its title. Otherwise, it was the same visually spectacular but textually challenged Wong Kar-wai oeuvre that baffled viewers but thrilled critics, a mix of wuxia and artistic pretence reinvented for the 21st-century festival.