Raining in the Mountain is, in some ways, the exact opposite of the last film I saw – Underwater. Where Underwater and its 90 minute runtime always felt in a desperate rush, this two hour long movie is in no hurry to get anywhere at all, with long, protracted scenes of people walking, running about, or being chased that would probably have today’s editors itching to reach for the nearest cutting tool.
There’s a good quote in one of the special features on the disc that really sums up the entire presentation: “It just relishes its A to B sequences, and treats crossing distances the way a conventional action movie would treat fights.”
This particular wuxia outing is brought to us once again by King Hu, who was responsible for such films as A Touch of Zen and The Fate of Lee Khan. It was filmed back to back with the more spooky and mysticism-oriented Legend of the Mountain so this other movie features the same sets, costumes, locations and actors in an attempt to reduce costs and maximise every penny that was spent on the production.
The story presented here is one of intrigue, politics, treachery and thievery inside a 16th century Buddhist temple. It’s a heist movie wrapped in a political drama, kind of an Ocean’s 11 meets All The President’s Men.
The Abbott of the temple is about to name a successor. Arriving there (ostensibly) to help him are the local governor General Wang and his lieutenant Chang. Along with them are rich patron of the temple, Esquire Wen, his concubine, and their servant. It quickly becomes apparent that not only are they there to help influence the choice, each with their own particular favourites, but that each group covets a sacred scroll that’s held within the temple that was written by Tripitaka and are out to obtain it by any means necessary. Add to this volatile mix one wildcard in the shape of former convict Chiu Ming and you have a recipe for shenanigans of the highest order.
The shenanigans, though, take second place to the camera-work. Filmed in widescreen, much of the film is spent in contemplation of the characters and their surroundings. In fact, the actual kung-fu fighting doesn’t make much of an appearance until the last twenty minutes, so anyone expecting a Shaw Brothers chop-socky effort is likely to be disappointed.
Special features on this Eureka Blu-ray release are a little scant but they’re about comparable to The Fate of Lee Khan, and they’re still worth the time to watch. The 2K transfer isn’t quite as good, as it was recreated from a composite of various sources, so in some scenes there are shifts in colour grading that can be jarring, but soon enough they either stop or the viewer simply stops noticing them. In addition to the new transfer there is a collector’s booklet featuring essays by Chinese-language film expert and author Stephen Teo, as well as Asian cinema expert David West.
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On the disc itself is a new commentary track by Asian cinema expert Tony Rayns and a video essay from David Cairns (both of whom appeared on the special features for Lee Khan) looking into the film. Both are well worth the time to check out, especially David Cairns, whose obvious passion for this material shines through. There is an English dub here as well as a scrubbed-up version of the original Mandarin audio, which sounds near as good as anything recorded today.
This is a slow, thoughtful, almost meandering film which at times can make a viewer feel every second of the two hour runtime, but it’s an engaging time all the same, watching these various factions and their attempt to outmanoeuvre each other to gain possession of the priceless scroll and the lead position in the temple. Despite the slow pace I found myself drawn into the dreamlike world that exists within the temple walls, invested in the fate of all the characters regardless of their motivations. Wuxia fans and fans of more thoughtful cinema, this is a film you should check out.
Raining in the Mountain is out on Blu-ray on 24th February from Eureka Entertainment.