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King Hu

King Hu (April 29, 1931 - January 14, 1997) was a Hong Kong and Taiwan-based Chinese film director whose wuxia films brought Chinese cinema to new technical and artistic heights. Also a noted scriptwriter and set designer, it was his films Come Drink With Me (1966) and Dragon Gate Inn (1967) which inaugurated a generation of wuxia films in the late 1960s.

Hu was born in Beijing, and he emigrated to Hong Kong in 1949, during which time he worked as advertising consultant, artistic designer and producer in a number of media companies, as well as a part-time English tutor. In 1958 he joined the Shaw Brothers Studio as set decorator, actor, scriptwriter and assistant director. Under the influence of Taiwanese director Li Han-Hsiang, Hu embarked on a directorial career, helping him helm the phenomenally successful The Love Eterne (1963). Hu's first film as a full-fledged director was Sons of the Good Earth (1965), a film set during the War of Resistance against Japan, but Hu is better remembered for his next film, Come Drink With Me (1966). His first success, Come Drink With Me remains a classic of the wuxia genre and catapulted the then 20-year-old starlet Cheng Pei-Pei to fame. Blending Japanese samurai film traditions with Western editing techniques and Chinese aethestic philosophy borrowed from Chinese music and operatics, Hu began the trend of a new school of wuxia swordplay films and his perpetual use of a female heroine as the central protagonist.

Leaving Shaw in 1966, Hu travelled to Taiwan, where his Dragon Gate Inn broke all box office and became a phenomenal hit and cult classic, especially in the Southeast Asia. This tense tale of highly skilled martial artists hidden in an inn in part resembles Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and was said to be the inspiration behind it; Zhang Yimou's House of Flying Daggers was also said to be dedicated to this film.

Chief amongst the films which exemplify Hu's blend of Chan Buddhism and unique Chinese aesthetics is his trilogy A Touch of Zen (which won the Technical Prize in 1975 Cannes Film Festival and which many regard as his masterpiece), Raining in the Mountains and Legend of the Mountains (both dating from 1979, and shot in Korea), all of which were loosely based on Pu Songling's Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio. After releasing A Touch of Zen, Hu started his own production company and shot The Fate of Lee Khan (1973) and The Valiant Ones (1975) back to back on tight finances. The action choreography in both these films was the work of Sammo Hung.

Though critically hailed, Hu's later films were ostensibly less successful than his first two films. Late in his life, he made a brief return from semi-retirement in Swordsman (1990) and Painted Skin (1991), but the latter never achieved the renown of those two, financially successful wuxia films. King Hu spent the last decade of his life in Los Angeles, but he died in Taipei from a stroke while preparing for another film project.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2004.

King Hu Facts

BirthdayApril 29, 1931
BirthplaceBeing, People's Rep. of China
Date of deathJanuary 14, 1997 (age 65)

Selected Filmography

A Touch of Zen
Come Drink with Me
Painted Skin
Legend of the Mountain
Raining in the Mountain
The Story of Sue San Shaw's Brothers DVD By IVL
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