wed 08/04/2020

DVD/Blu-ray: Raining in the Mountain | reviews, news & interviews

DVD/Blu-ray: Raining in the Mountain

DVD/Blu-ray: Raining in the Mountain

Leaping warriors fly through monastery

Sun Yueh as Esquire Wen and Hsu Leng as White Fox

King Hu is the original master of wuxia or martial arts films – visual feasts of balletic conflict and near-slapstick humour – and this 1979 film is one of his best, though perhaps less well-known than Dragon Inn (1967), A Touch of Zen (1971) and Legend of the Mountain (1979).

King Hu is the original master of wuxia or martial arts films – visual feasts of balletic conflict and near-slapstick humour – and this 1979 film is one of his best, though perhaps less well-known than Dragon Inn (1967), A Touch of Zen (1971) and Legend of the Mountain (1979). The director's trailblazing and stylish work inspired the later renaissance of wuxia films, with Ang Lee’s masterful Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and Zhang Yimou’s House of Flying Daggers (2004)

The action, overflowing with complex and unfolding intrigue, takes place in 16th century Ming dynasty China, in a remote Buddhist monastery. The ageing abbot, a majestic and wise figure with a prototypical long white beard, is about to retire, and he has invited two laymen, both generous donors to the establishment, to help choose his successor: the wily Esquire Wen (Sun Yueh) and scheming General Wang (Tien Feng), the corrupt district administrator, both of whom are interested in obtaining as a bribe for their support to one of the candidates (or by stealth) a precious manuscript held in the monastery’s treasure house. The majestic pageantry of the monastery – resplendent with an architecture that mirrors the inner peace sought by its inhabitants – is contrasted with the earthly greed and ambitions of the outsiders who have come to advise, as well as the violence of their associates who hunt, chase and cavort in the highly choreographed style that distinguishes wuxia movies.

Raining in the Mountain Blu Ray/ DVDThe highly stylised shooting style is characterised by a beautifully paced montage of tracking shots, low-angle perspectives, close-ups in constant dialogue with painterly wides. The approach is visually rich and complex but also very musical in its micro-structure. The soundtrack (by Wu Da-Jiang) is very present, sometimes too much, almost Hollywoodian, as Esquire Wen approaches the monastery through the mountains, and then an avalanche of bells, gongs and percussion for the action sequences that come on, one after the other until the breath-taking climax of the film.

Although this is film rich in characterful performers, the star is unequivocally Hsu Feng, as White Fox, the martial warrior and professional robber, who has come along as Esquire Yen’s concubine. She comes from a long line of charismatic and beautiful female warriors in Chinese, Hong Kong and Taiwanese cinema: female manifestations of the Trickster archetype who fly through the air, jump off trees and roofs, or kick-box like the best of their male counterparts, and remain as graceful as if they were leading dancers in a Peking opera. As we are told in the brief biographical and critical portrait that comes as this 2K reissue’s only bonus, King Hu was a great lover of Chinese opera’s choreographic pyrotechnics. This is a film in which the characters move and fight with an elegance that lies at the heart of a culture whose aesthetics are different from our own, and all the more attractive for it.

King Hu was a great lover of Chinese opera’s choreographic pyrotechnics

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Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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