Adapted from a Song Dynasty folk tale, director King Hu’s epic fantasy is as much Zen as it is mystery and (occasionally at least) martial arts. Combined with Joe Chan’s stunning cinematography, the film is not only a visual treat but perfectly captures the breath-taking beauty of the exotic landscape.

When Ho (Shih Chun), a somewhat bumbling but good-willed scholar who failed in his exams, is appointed with the task of transcribing a rare Buddhist sutra said to have great power over sprits of the afterlife he has no idea what he lets himself in for when he agrees. On his way to a remote monastery, chosen so he may be undisturbed while working on the transcript, he begins to see the vision of a beautiful and mysterious woman in a white gown playing a flute, however, upon closer inspection the ‘apparition’ seems to vanish into thin air.
And further and further Ho wanders… along stretches of forests, mountain roads, river paths and what have you. At times the film feels more like a documentary about the beautiful and diverse landscapes of Taiwan than a fantastical movie – adding (unnecessarily I may add) to the film’s whopping 191 minutes running time.

Eventually Ho reaches his destination, an abandoned and strange old fortress where his host Tsui (Lin Tung) greets him and does his best to make him feel welcome. But a quiet time is clearly not in store for our Ho because it won’t take long before an old woman called Ms. Chang (Rainbow Hsu) – a gossip and self-styled gourmet cook – boldly declares herself to be Ho’s humble servant… and he has precious little to say in the matter. What’s more, she coaxes Ho into agreeing to teach her daughter Melody (Feng Hsu) academic skills but during his first night as a guest he manages to get drunk and the next morning Melody claims that a sexual encounter took place during the night – of which Ho can remember nothing. Nonetheless he does the respectable thing and reluctantly agrees to marry Melody. What he doesn’t know is that Melody and her mother are not what they seem to be and are, in fact, after stealing Ho’s sutra. Soon, magic is in the air though not necessarily in a positive way, and who is the mysterious Lama monk (Ng Ming Tsui) observing and watching everything?

As the adventure continues and pace and action eventually increase, the hopelessly naïve Ho finally awakens to the sobering fact that Melody and her mother have nothing good on their minds and will stop at nothing to get their hand on the sacred sutra. During another outing – presumably to get away from Melody’s clutches – Ho and a companion encounter an inn where the landlady’s pretty daughter Cloud (Sylvia Chang) turns out to be the mysterious, white-clad flute player which Ho spotted weeks before on route to the fortress. It might be love at first sight but Cloud is also not quite what she seems to be… another lady with magical powers and adamant to stop Melody from bringing further harm to the increasingly bewildered Ho.

In the final part the stage is set for some acrobatic action (sword fights, kicks and what have you) leading to the grand showdown (and surprising ending) while flashback sequences provide more information to the characters of Melody and Cloud in particular… Music and musical instruments play a significant part in the film, be it Melody and Lama relentlessly working their cymbals and tambourine drums or Cloud playing the flute – all in the name of good and evil magic.

THE LEGEND OF THE MOUNTAIN is a curious hotchpotch of supernatural fantasy, Buddhist philosophy and also comedy - most prominently provided by actor Shih Chun’s hapless character Ho.