Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 30, 2020 10:19 am 
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TUNG LIN AND WU CHIA-HSIANG IN RAINING IN THE MOUNTAIN

TRAILER

An abbot chooses a successor while his friends scheme over an old scroll

In 2016 I reported on the rerelease of two earlier King Hu films, Dragon Inn and A Touch of Zen. Now Film Forum continues its ongoing series of restored Wuxia classics from King Hu, this time Raining in the Mountain from 1979. An exclusive engagement of Film Forum, presented online, begins Friday, October 30, 2020.

The action, all set in the Ming Dynasty (16th century), isn't too heavy on the fights this time, more on the scheming and intrigue and what makes a good Buddhist, and with more humor than in King Hu's other Wuxia hits. It does have some good martial arts sequences - scored more for movement than combat, notably involving a team of predominantly yellow-clad women "attendants" for lay Buddhist master Wu Wai (Wu Chia-hsiang), who turn out to be great at jumping, especially in rocky mountainous settings where no sane person or human would jump. These ladies come in handy to defend an extremely valuable if deteriorating Tripitaka (ancient Buddhist) scroll stored at a grand, remote monastery in the mountains. Also arriving as the story begins are district governor General Wang (Tien Feng) and wealthy merchant Esquire Wen (Sun Yueh), each with his own stealthy henchmen aimed at nabbing the scroll. The lay sage, the general, and the merchant have all been summoned by the abbot to help him decide on a successor. Two of these have other motives; and the lay sage seems to delight in distracting the young (and older) monks with his bevy of maidens. In one amusing scene the maidens are all bathing in a stream while the monks try in vain to focus on their prayers.

The long-bearded abbot (Su Han) is in his nineties and ready to retire: hence the invitations. (As is noted and he shows, he still has his wits about him, and he has more than one surprise in store for us and his devious "guests." ) Three power hungry monks, believing themselves to be best qualified for their knowledge of Buddhist scripture, in which they are duly tested, is each eagerly hoping to be chosen. In the event, they are all equally flabbergasted when the abbot, to avoid internal conflict and choose someone without involvement in local politics, decides to select an outsider, Chiu Ming (Tung Lin), a man charged (but unjustly) with theft, who's bought into the monastery to avoid forced military service. He's got evident characteristics they lack: humility, an honest face, an imposing physique and a mastery of martial arts which he demonstrates defending the scroll from a wood-be thief. He also turns out after his appointment to be a decisive administrator ready with innovations such as sending the monks to do farming work when they complain of the poor quality of the food.

The story is set at a monastery, and it was all filmed in and around the beautiful and imposing eighth-century Bulguksa Buddhist temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site in south-eastern South Korea. This magnificent location, which I hope was not harmed in the making of the film - is in itself reason to watch Raining in the Mountain.

As has been complained sometimes before of King Hu, he isn't great at character development. This is more about action and scenery - and philosophy, since there are obvious moral lessons here. It meanders a bit. There is pleasure in seeing some of the most manipulative and conniving characters get outfoxed. And though the choice seems odd and provocative, the new abbot does seem the man for the job. The martial arts, though it always seems on the verge of happening, comes more as an occasional gesture - till the last segment, when the lay sage's yellow-clad ladies come forth in a troop like giant dragonflies in the mountains dropping colorfully from ledge to ledge, and it's quietly jaw-dropping.

This is one of two films (with Legend of the Mountain) that King Hu made in 1979 in South Korea starring Taiwan/Hong Kong female 'superstar' Hsu Feng (A Touch of Zen), here cast as the cunning "White Fox." In this film she comes accompanied by Gold Lock, Played by the film's martial arts choreographer Ng Ming-Choi, their two characters masquerading as Esquire Wen's concubine and servant, respectively.

This film was submitted by Hong Kong as its Best Foreign Oscar nominee, but was not accepted; however, it won numerous awards and nominations at the Taipei Golden Horse event. Hollywood was wrong to reject it. I particularly was impressed by the score by Ng Tai Kong, which in certain passages has a striking abstract, musique concrète style that's timeless, yet also modern. I concur with Jamie Havlin of "Louder Than War," who wrote, of the February 2020-released Blu-ray/DVD, that the film as a whole is "beautifully crafted," the editing "brilliantly rhythmic," the Peking Opera-inspired fight scenes "a joy to watch," the cinematography "immaculate," and the film as a whole evidence of an epic Wuxia "master at work."

Raining in the Mountain 空山靈雨 (Kong shan ling yu), 120 mins., premiered in Hong Kong July 11, 1979. At Taipen it won best director, best art direction, best cinematography, best score and best sound recording. It also showed at Mannheim-Heidelberg, Chicago, and Pesaro. The 2K restoration by the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute from the original 35mm. reels was released in a Blu-ray/DVD duel format Feb. 2020. Now a Film Movement Classics release, it opens in Film Forum's virtual cinema Oct. 30, 2020.

MASTERS OF CINEMA TRAILER

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NG MING-CHO AND HSU FENG IN RAINING IN THE MOUNTAIN

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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