We're always here for some good Asian cinema, especially when it's a piece by prolific Chinese actor/director/writer/filmmaker King Hu. But whereas the highlights of that particular world are many, it's a little baffling that Hu's 1979 film Raining in the Mountain would get the remaster treatment—it's kind of a slog.
During the Ming Dynasty, the famous Three Treasures Temple faces more activity than usual. The abbot knows he'll die soon and must name his successor, which brings an esquire, a wealthy landowner and an accomplished general to help arbitrate and facilitate the transfer of power. Meanwhile, a convicted criminal manages to alter his sentence to a monastic life at the temple, but a connection to a man in the general's entourage could prove fatal; a young thief might just be roaming around, too, in search of a handwritten Tripiṭaka (Buddhist scripture) rumored to be beyond value.
In other words, the setup is all there for the thrills, chills and Dickensian spills that come from down-on-their-luck types thrust into a world of hardships and coincidences. Sadly, though, Raining in the Mountain is mainly about parables, it seems, or at least the kind of teachings old folks like, namely, ones wherein there's always some kind of trick wisdom hidden beneath the surface. Oh, there's a fight scene or two, though they feel deflated—as does an early act sequence of a mysterious pair making their way across the massive temple grounds in what feels like real time. No, seriously—it's, like, 10 solid minutes of two people running across the temple grounds.
Pity, too, as the story itself is intriguing. Perhaps Hu was aiming for a fairy tale thing, but at around what feels like the 300th conversation about what the criminal did, who should be the abbot and how civilians and military types butt heads, it starts to feel like it'll never end. That's not to gloss over the gorgeous remaster and the few fleeting moments of excitement, rather that we could think of a lot of movies from that era that might have better deserved an update. This one's for the Asian cinephiles only, and even then it's more like a badge of honor than something you'll be glad you trudged through.
+Looks great; intriguing story
-Honestly kind of boring
Raining in the Mountain (Remaster)
Directed by Hu
Jean Cocteau Virtual Cinema, NR, 120 min.