Raining in the Mountain (1979)

November 17, 2003 • Film, Reviews

Director: king Hu
Writer: King Hu
Cast: Feng Hsu, Yueh Sun, Shih Chun, Feng Tien, Hui Lou Chen

Running Time: 120 min.

It was a costly financial failure when it was produced, and it’s failure helped to destroy King Hu’s reputation in the studio system. After the commercial failure of his most extravagant venture, the three-hour masterpiece A Touch of Zen, Hu’s reputation as a hitmaker had been waning. While The Fate of Lee Khan and The Valiant Ones had done reasonable business, King Hu’s “mountain” films, Legend of the Mountain (sometimes called ÎWalking in the Mountain”) and Raining in the Mountain, shot in Korea with some of Hu’s favorite performers (most conspicuously Hu’s favorite firebrand, Hsu Feng), turned into costly flops. One reason could be that kung fu films had been changing, getting more involved with the intricate and bloody duels Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Yuen Biao brought to the business, eschewing plot for more exciting fight scenes. By contrast, Hu had been replacing action with plot (following his “all fight” movies Lee Khan and The Valiant Ones), while actually using less blood effects and definitely avoiding excessive gore. Another reason could be that Hu was in favor of complex allegories and complicated character psychology, both of which were things that the Shaw Bros./Golden Harvest-dominated 70s kung fu market was largely staying away from. Basically, King Hu didn’t run with the herd. And though he was one of the most important film innovators of the sixties, by 1979 his audience wasn’t with him anymore.

And it’s a damn shame they weren’t, because if they had taken the time to look, they would have discovered that Raining in the Mountain is one of Hu’s best works, an allegorical adventure approaching the greatness of his masterpiece A Touch of Zen and rubbing shoulders with classics like Come Drink With Me and Dragon Inn. Raining in the Mountain is a dizzying chase through the labyrinth of a giant Korean monastery, a ferocious battle of wits, and an acrobatic spectacular. It’s also a stunning story.

Though conspicuously devoid of rain, the monastery that serves as the setting for almost all of the film’s action is constantly shrouded in mist. Through the mists of the maze run two groups locked in a frenetic power struggle.

A villainous lord, aided by his homicidally-inclined bodyguard, are looking for a scroll hidden somewhere in the monastery. To this end, he has scheduled some time to attend the coronation the monastery’s new abbott, while his bodyguard races around looking for the item. A shrewd sort of racconteur, also aware of the manuscript’s existence, has enlisted the aid of the fierce thief White Fox (wonderfully animated Hsu Feng) and her portly but surprisingly acrobatic assistant in order to find the scroll first. The battle of wits between the two parties takes up the width and breadth of the film, with Hu masterfully building suspense around the constant double-and-triple-crosses between the two groups. And around them all the monks of the monastery move, calmly attending to their own business.

Raining in the Mountain is one of Hu’s most beautiful films, constantly awash in the vibrant colors of the monastery. The acrobatic chase scenes are just as intricate as Hu’s web of plots and counterplots, all adding up to one of the master filmmakers’ most complicated and rewarding films. It’s too bad the tide was against Hu back then-public opinion and studios full of narrow-minded executives collaborated to deprive Hu of another decade worth of innovative filmmaking.

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