King Hu

Beijing, China


King Hu was a Chinese film director, best known for directing wuxia films in the 1960s and 1970s, which brought martial arts cinema to new technical and artistic heights. Applying montage filmmaking techniques and emulating the grand sweeping epics of the spaghetti westerns, his films Come Drink with Me, Dragon Inn and A Touch of Zen inaugurated a new generation of wuxia films in the late 1960s. During the filming of his war epic Sons of Good Earth, about Chinese rebellions against the Japanese invasion, Hu proudly claimed, ‘While most Hong Kong productions borrowed firearms from the local British forces, I did not use any British weapons in my film’. According to Hu, ‘For “political reasons” it was chopped up into pieces by the censorship […] Any glimpse of the rising-sun was eliminated’. The film tanked at the local box office, but did receive great acclaim in Taiwan. After completing Come Drink with Me, Hu attempted to leave the Shaw Brothers studio to join Sha's Union Film, but Shaw insisted Hu still owed him six more films contractually, sending his deputy to threaten a thorough investigation of King Hu's background. Fearing that Hu might be blacklisted as a communist and therefore not be allowed to work in Taiwan at all, Sha reluctantly ceded to the deputy's demands. With far more artistic freedom, Hu's next film which was shot in central Taiwan, Dragon Inn was an instant hit and became the top-grossing film of the year, also breaking records in Hong Kong and Korea. His next film, A Touch of Zen was a box office failure, however it was awarded at the Cannes Film Festival and became an international sensation. Two years after King Hu's death, Ang Lee began principal photography of his first martial arts film, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, in which he paid the ultimate tribute to Hu. Martial arts cinema leaped into the twenty-first century to new heights, owing much of its legacy to King Hu.