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Raining In The Mountain
Raining In Of The Mountain, directed by King Hu in 1979, takes place during the Ming Dynasty and it revolves around a Buddhist abbot who lives in a remote monastery called The Three Treasures Temple in the middle of a remote mountain range. His main task in life is to ensure the safety of a sacred scroll handwritten by a monk named Tripitaki. As he's aged over the years, it's time to name his successor and so he winds up accepting the assistance of both a wealthy aristocratic man named Wen (Yueh Sun) and a military man named General Wang (Feng Tien), and their respective entourages including a master thief named White Fox (Hsu Feng), in doing so. What he doesn't realize is that both of these men are out to steal the scroll, their offers of assistance really nothing more than a simple ruse that they hope will fool the abbot. The abbot's first disciple, Hui Tung (Shih Jun), also factors into this equation as does a renowned master named Wu Wai (Wu Chia-hsiang) and a convicted criminal named Chiu Ming (Tung Lam).
As the pair works to help him choose a worthy successor to his important position, roving gangs of martial arts fighters arrive, making the attempts to steal the scroll from the abbot all the more blatant. As the different characters twist and turn into position, each vying for possession of the scroll and getting closer to achieving their goal, the different conflicts that make up the bulk of the film's story line become increasingly violent.
A fascinating mix of Buddhist theology, wushu-styled martial arts combat and what is, at its core, a reasonably simple heist film, Raining On The Mountain is another impressive entry in King Hu's filmography. Gorgeously shot and able to seriously take advantage of some stunning mountainous locations, the film may, at times, put style over substance but there's certainly enough here in terms of the plot, the characterizations and the themes that the movie deals with to keep most viewers interested, particularly those with affinity for the beautiful blend of martial arts cinema and arthouse style moviemaking that King Hu made a name for himself with in international cinema circles.
The performances are pretty strong across the board, with Hsu Feng really stealing most of the scenes that she's involved with and making quite an impression here. Yueh Sun and Feng Tien are also very good here, bringing the expected sense of pomp and circumstance to their respective roles. Wu Chia-hsiang also delivers interesting work here and Tung Lam is very well cast as the one time criminal.
As fine as the acting is, however, the visuals are going to be the big sell for most viewers. The cinematography in this picture, from Henry Chan, and the art direction by King Hu himself, is stunning. The widescreen framing does a fantastic job of really bringing us into the remote mountains where all of this takes place and giving us a great look at the gorgeous scenery as well as the impressive action set pieces that populate the movie. The use of color really makes certain set pieces pop, the blood in the more violent scenes really jumping at you, and the periodic employment of diffused lighting and lens flares helps to give some of the film a, clearly deliberate, sense of dreamy poetry that goes a long way towards making this film as memorable as it is. There's also impressive attention to period detail here, with nice locations and sets used and some ornate costuming standing out.The Blu-ray
Film Movement presents Raining In The Mountain on a 50GB Blu-ray disc with the feature presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 2.35.1 widescreen. The transfer is taken from a new ‘2k digital restoration' and it looks really good. Colors are warm but not unnatural looking, if slightly faded, and black levels are nice and strong. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and there's very strong detail throughout, nice depth and texture too. There are some scenes that look quite a bit grainier than others but we can probably chalk that up to the original camerawork rather than a defect with the transfer itself. Otherwise, this is a beautifully shot film filled with a lot of gorgeous scenery and it looks really very good here.Sound:
The Chinese language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track, which comes with optional subtitles in English only, is problem free. There's decent range for a mono mix and the levels are properly balanced. There are no audible problems with any hiss or distortion and the score has pretty solid power behind it, even if it sounds a tad harsh from time to time (as do some of the sound effects used throughout the picture). Overall though, the audio here is fine.Extras:
Extras start off with an audio commentary by critic and Asian cinema expert Tony Rayns. This is very interesting stuff as it not only dissects the film but also does a great job of exploring King Hu's background, including how he got into filmmaking, his relationship with politics, the evaluation of his style and the importance of his work overall. It also details the cast, the crew, the story and a lot more, it's thorough and very detailed.
Also included on the disc is Treasure Of The Spirit which is a new video essay by Chinese-language film expert and author Stephen Teo that breaks down a lot of the themes that the picture explores. It's nicely put together and quite interesting. Menus and chapter selection options are also provided on the disc.
The disc come packaged with a sixteen-page color insert booklet that contains a new essay on the film written by New York Asian Film Festival Executive Director Samuel Jamier that does a nice job of explaining the film's appeal and importance.Final Thoughts:
King Hu's Raining In The Mountain is as entertaining as it is engrossing and visually beautiful. Film Movement's Blu-ray release presents the film in a very nice presentation and with a few solid extra features as well. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.