Raining in the Mountain [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Eureka
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (1st March 2020).
The Film

The abbot (New Fist of Fury's Su Han) of the Three Treasures Buddhist temple is about to name his successor and has summoned three men who have financially supported the temple to mediate any disputes that rise from his choice. Although Esquire Wen (Boxer Rebellion's Yueh Sun) explains to his concubine White Fox (To Kill with Intrigue's Feng Hsu) that the Three Treasures are spiritual, he does note that the temple holds a copy of a sutra hand-copied by Tripitaka who was credited with bringing Buddhist traditions to China and is as priceless materially as its words are spiritually. Esquire Wen has employed thief White Fox to steal the scroll with the help of his valet Gold Lock (Vengeance is a Gold Blade's Ming-Tsai Wu), offering to put his support behind venal Hui Wen (Fearless Hyena II's Hui Lou Chen) as the next abbot should he enable the theft by giving them access to the scripture hall. Little do they know that General Wang (Five Fingers of Death's Feng Tien) has thrown his support behind power-hungry Hui Tung (A Sword for a Killer's Chun Shih) to help corrupt police Lieutenant Cheng Chang (Trail of the Broken Blade's Kuang Yu Wang) secure the scroll. The third advisor is Buddhist layman Master Wu Wai (Bloody Monkey Master's Chia-Hsiang Wu) who arrives with a retinue of nuns; while it is implied that he not immune to the temptations of the flesh, he seems content to support the abbot's own likely choice in pure-hearted Hui Ssu (Peking Opera Blues' Paul Chun). Coinciding with their arrival is convict Chiu Ming (The Oily Maniac's Lin Tung) who has purchased a permit to become a monk at the temple, telling the abbot that he was falsely accused by Cheng Chang who beat his brother to death in court. Chiu Ming claims that he would do nothing if he were to meet the police lieutenant, but Cheng Chang recognizes him first and it is through an altercation in which Chiu Ming acts in self-defense that the abbot comes to discover the parties vying for possession of the scroll. The abbot shocks the temple when he decides that his successor will be an outsider in Chiu Ming, and the decision seems to come as much out of wisdom as a provocation to the villainous parties. While Hui Tung tries to incite the other monks against the new abbot, Hui Wen is unhelpful with Chiu Ming's requests to secure funding to improve conditions, while Hui Ssu seems to be the only one who honors the old abbot's wishes. While the General and Esquire Wen keep up polite facades to Chiu Ming, White Fox, Gold Lock, and Cheng Chang attempt to foil each other's attempts to get the scroll unaware that they are about to be double-crossed.

Shot back-to-back with the epic-length but more intimately-told Legend of the Mountain as an independent production shot in South Korea after actor/art director turned editor/director King Hu had broken with the Shaw Brothers (for which he had directed the hits Dragon Inn and A Touch of Zen) and contracted with Golden Harvest for the duo The Valiant Ones and The Fate of Lee Khan, Raining in the Mountain has a lot in common with the latter film in its use of an enclosed (however sprawling), literally cloistered location as a setting for intrigue; however, the McGuffin of the priceless scroll itself is an extension of the director's attempt to convey a Buddhist lesson as the villainous characters repeatedly fail to grasp that what is truly valuable about the "raggedy scroll" are the words not the artifact itself (so much so that Esquire Wen is actually surprised when Chiu Ming seriously considers putting the scroll up as collateral to borrow money when the monks complain about the quality of food at Hui Tung's behest). Although the film's exposition is rather blatantly conveyed and many wordless action scenes are drawn out, the film retains its suspense even though we are aware of how much the abbot and subsequently Chiu Ming know about the intrigues because it remains ambiguous whether the abbot appointing Chiu Ming was truly a wise decision, an attempt to avoid resentment between those who support the three candidates, or an outright provocation to the thieves just as the audience constantly anticipates the limits of Chiu Ming's Zen-like demeanor in the face of treachery and violence. King Hu, who not only wrote and directed the film but also served as art director and editor, gets mileage out of the contrast between the functional widescreen photography and the breathtaking settings as he moves seamlessly from extended sequences crosscutting between the participants to the attempted heists to moments of epic scope with stately compositions teaming with extras. In keeping with Hu's variation on the wuxia ("martial chivalry") tradition, the choreography of the fight sequences echoes more the movements of the Peking Opera than that the styles of filmic coverage of fighting and swordplay emerging from the studios King Hu left behind. A fitting swan song, Raining in the Mountain delivers on the expected King Hu action and intrigue with an underlying message about Buddhist teachings and material temptations.
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Video

Unreleased theatrically or on home video (apart from an unauthorized DVD) in the United States, Raining in the Mountain was previously only available on DVD in France from Films sans Frontières and Germany from Intergroove (under the title A Touch of Zen II. Eureka's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen Blu-ray is derived from a 2018 digital restoration utilizing the 35mm original camera negative, the original interpositive, and a 35mm release print. While the results are better than the restorations of Legend of the Mountain and The Fate of Lee Khan, the transfer is not without issues. The image goes from clean with slightly flatter contrast of the negative to an increase in contrast and slightly loss of detail in the brightest parts of the image from scene to scene and sometimes within scenes (with a missing frame or two during some of the changes from source material). The colors look more naturalistic than some of the more teal-leaning color corrections of other Asian restorations of late and the more saturated colors remain pleasing, but it reflects the neglect the acclaimed director's non-studio work suffered since release.
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Although no physical media release has been announced, the American rights have apparently been licensed by Film Movement who have already released The Fate of Lee Khan on Blu-ray.

Audio

No mention is made of the source material for the restoration, but the original mono mix in LPCM 2.0 sounds more consistent in quality than the composite with some hiss during the more silent passages while the fight scenes and scored passages exhibit some nice depth with minimal distoration at the high ends. Optional English subtitles are provided.

Extras

The film is accompanied by an audio commentary by critic and Asian cinema expert Tony Rayns who notes that King Hu, who art directed the film, also designed the calligraphic opening credits. He puzzles over the meaning of the title since there is no rain in the film, suggesting it is either a Zen riddle or has symbolic meaning (the rain representing human conflict in the natural setting of the mountain). Although he notes that King Hu's screenplay is an original, the reference to Tripitaka comes from the sixteenth century Wu Ch'eng-En "Journey to the West" (better known outside of China under its 1942 English-language abridgement "Monkey: A Folk-Tale of China"), and that King Hu's interest was not in Buddhism itself but in the historical disconnect between the teachings and a history of human corruption, with the three advisors, their partners, and their candidates representative of society: the merchant class (the thieves as the flipside of honest business), the states (with the police lieutenant as corrupt authority), and the lay Buddhist (and the pure of heart candidate he supports). In "Beyond Description" (21:21), a video essay by David Cairns, the film scholar quotes King Hu describing the project as the "challenge of showing something that cannot be explained by the logical processes of Western philosophy" and that the translation of the title "Spiritual Rain in the Hollow Mountain" is a literal "touch of Zen." He discusses the similarities it shows with some of King Hu's other films in which diverse character meet in liminal spaces and also discusses the cast members who had appeared in earlier King Hu films, contrasting their roles with earlier ones, as well as how the overlap in production with Legend of the Mountain allowed King Hu to economically lend each production additional "production value" (noting that the big scene with all of the monk extras in both films are the same shoot with the lead players swapped out). The disc also includes a newly-created theatrical trailer (1:53).
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Packaging

Packaged in a standard keepcase with a limited edition O-card included in the first print run of two thousand copies is a collector's booklet featuring new essays by Chinese-language film expert and author Stephen Teo and Asian cinema expert David West, news editor at NEO magazine. After a brief notation by Rayns on the title translation, "Buddhism, Dharma, and Monkhood in Raining in the Mountain" by Teo suggests that, although the film would be Hu's last, it represented a turning point in the director's filmography, with a greater interest in movement itself over fighting, invoking Buddhist "precepts to try to redefine the meaning and substance of action" while in West's "Finding the Buddha Within: Beyond Want and Wuxia in Raining In The Mountain," the author ruminates on the ways that the film is quite out of step with its 1979 contemporaries and, indeed, "distinguishes itself philosophically, artistically and culturally from the kung fu films that were popular when it emerged."
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Overall

A fitting swan song, Raining in the Mountain delivers on the expected King Hu action and intrigue with an underlying message about Buddhist teachings and material temptations.

 


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