An influential martial arts film and an acknowledged influence on Ang Lee's amazing Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, King Hu's A Touch of Zen opens with young scholar Ku Shen-chai working at his portraiture stand in a small frontier town. He lives with his nagging mother in a supposedly haunted, rundown house at the edge of the abandoned Ching Liu estate.
One day, a stranger named Ou-Yang Yin asks for his picture to be painted, and then suddenly leaves. Soon, another stranger -- this time a beautiful woman named Yang Hui-Ching -- suddenly moves into the complex next door.
The presence of these strangers has an increasingly unnerving effect on Ku, and he rightfully comes to believe that the entire town is involved in some bizarre political intrigue. After a night of passion between Ku and Yang, Ou-Yang Yin stages a surprise attack on the compound, which Yang surprisingly thwarts with dazzling aplomb.
Yang reveals to him that her father was an honorable general executed due to the nefarious doings of the powerful Eunuch Wei. With the aid of General Shih and Lu (who pose as the town's blind beggar and herb vendor respectively), Yang was spirited away first to a monastery where she learned martial arts and then to Ku's remote corner of China.
Ou-Yang Yin, Eunuch Wei's henchman, has in turn vowed to pursue her to the ends of the earth. As Ou-Yang Yin rallies Wei's army to the walled estate, Ku -- having spent a lifetime researching military history -- devises a brilliant strategy to crush the siege and win the heart of this most unusual woman.
Though his plan works, he fails to win the loyalty of Yang; she flees into the night as Ku slept. After searching desperately, Ku finds her in the same monastery where she learned kung-fu. Now a Buddhist nun, she hands over their child to him and sends him packing.
Realizing that Ku is in danger, Yang and her mentor -- a saintly abbot -- then set out to protect him. Suddenly out of nowhere, Hsu Hsien-Chen -- the profoundly evil army commander of Eunuch Wei -- confronts the abbot and an all-out battle between good and evil ensues.
Screened at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival and winning a technical prize, this was the first Chinese language film ever to win a major western film festival award.