Your enjoyment of the sumptuous 1979 Taiwanese ghost story Legend of the Mountain will likely depend upon your tolerance for this 192-minute Buddhist parable’s deliberate pace and tangent-filled plot. For starters, you must steep in sublime landscape shots of foggy hilltops and deserted stone pavilions for a preliminary half-hour before this Song dynasty–set fairy tale really begins: an improbably naive innocent scholar Yunqing (Chun Shih) is haunted by mysterious ghost Melody (Feng Hsu).
You also have to enjoy leisurely paced dialogue scenes that needlessly underscore obvious twists, like when Yunqing’s kindly mentor Tsui (Lin Tung) warns Yunqing of Melody’s evil intentions at the 100-minute mark, long after we’ve seen Melody cast various ominous-looking spells behind Yunqing’s back.
If you’re with all that, there’s a good chance you’ll dig Legend of the Mountain — especially if your viewing experience mirrors Yunqing’s seduction. First, you’ll be charmed by Hsu’s bewitching presence and Melody’s effectively manipulative backstory thanks to a series of refreshingly brisk expository dialogue scenes. Next, you’ll get an adrenaline spike every time writer-director King Hu (Come Drink With Me, Dragon Inn) interrupts Yunqing’s slow downward spiral with a handful of kinetic, dialogue-free spell-casting duels waged by Melody against a stern-looking do-gooder lama (Hui Lou Chen).
Maybe you’ll curse Hu out when he masterfully delays the lama and Melody’s spectacular final confrontation with an otherwise moving romantic subplot between Yunqing and his soft-spoken lover Cloud (Sylvia Chang). Legends of the Mountain’s narrative fuse may be long, but Hu knows exactly when to light it and when to snuff it out.
Legend of the Mountain
Directed by King Hu
Opens February 2, Metrograph
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 26, 2018