King Hu’s place in the history of world cinema as the man who reinvigorated and evolved the wuxia genre is well cemented, and “Raining in the Mountain”, which was selected as one of the Best 100 Chinese Motion Pictures by the Hong Kong Film Awards in 2005, is another testament to the fact.
“Raining in the Mountain” is currently being shown at the Vesoul International Film Festival of Asian Cinema.
During the 16th century, this tale takes place in a remote Buddhist Monastery where the ageing Abbot is preparing to retire and select his successor. Seeking guidance, the Abbot invites three outsiders to offer their advice, each with their own hidden motives. Esquire Wen, a wealthy benefactor of the monastery, brings along White Fox, a notorious thief posing as his concubine, and another accomplice to help him steal the sacred text “The Mahayana Sutra,” which was meticulously copied by Tripitaka. General Wang, the head of the local military, arrives with his intimidating Lieutenant Chang, determined to manipulate the succession process to their advantage. Meanwhile, the renowned lay Buddhist master Wu Wai is surrounded by women and appears uninterested in the temple’s affairs. Just before the Abbot’s decision, a criminal named Chiu Ming seeks refuge at the monastery and complicates matters even further.
The film “Raining in the Mountain” was filmed in South Korea, specifically at the renowned Bulguksa temple. Upon viewing, one will immediately notice that director King Hu made excellent use of this stunning location. The house of scriptures, depicted as a cramped and perilous setting, the grand courtyard where a pivotal scene takes place, and even the picturesque surrounding area where the climax unfolds have all been captured in a skillful and meaningful manner. Cinematographer Joe Chan Jun-Git’s work has resulted in a visually stunning experience that greatly enhances the overall aesthetics of the film, particularly through its impressive use of color.
As is typical in King Hu’s films, the storytelling in “Raining in the Mountain” is also a display of artistry. Hu takes his time to introduce the main characters and the complex political schemes that drive the plot, creating a layered and intricate narrative. The arrival of the convict further disrupts the power dynamics, adding a new dynamic to the story. The exploration of the characters and the current situation have always been a hallmark of King Hu’s films, setting them apart from other wuxia productions. In “Raining in the Mountain,” this is exemplified in the masterful portrayal of characters and their relationships. Additionally, Hu’s signature Buddhist themes are once again present, particularly through the convict and the Abbot, adding depth to the story.
The film also relies heavily on its pacing, which is achieved through the skilled editing of King Hu and Siu Nam, as well as the Chinese-opera influenced music by Wu Da-Jiang. This combination creates a sense of urgency and action, even in moments when there may not be any. Additionally, the well-executed action choreography, paired with this pacing, results in a few but impactful scenes that are both artistic and impressive – particularly those set in the woods.
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The opposite of the previously mentioned components, the peacefulness of Buddhism, the monastery and its surroundings, the schemes of the main characters, the resulting violence, and the quick pace, all serve as the foundation for the story. This showcases Hu’s exceptional talent in bringing them all together through his skilled direction and overall mastery of the medium.
The performances are of a high caliber, with the actors adhering to the expected dramatic style of the genre through sudden movements and changes in expression. This is further emphasized by the quick cuts that focus on their bodies and faces. Sun Yueh as Esquire Wen and Tien Feng as General Wang stand out for their convincing portrayal of their characters’ villainous nature. However, it is Hsu Feng as White Fox, the only significant female character in the film, who steals the spotlight. She skillfully depicts both her determination and inner turmoil, much like Tung Lin’s impressive portrayal of Chiu Ming’s transformation from a hesitant and remorseful man to a decisive leader.
“Raining in the Mountain” is one of the best films in King Hu’s filmography, as it thrives both visually and contextually, while its duration (120 minutes approximately) also makes it one of his most approachable.