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  Raining in the Mountain Scroll's Well That Ends Well
Year: 1979
Director: King Hu
Stars: Hsu Feng, Sun Yueh, Shih Chun, Tien Feng, Chen Hui Lou, Paul Chun, Han Su, Li Wen Tai, Lu Chung, Tung Lin, Wang Kuang Hu, Wu Chia-Hsiang, Wu Ming Tsai, Kim Sang-Gean
Genre: Drama, Martial ArtsBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Many moons ago, there was a large monastery in China with a wide area of grounds around it which was one of the wealthiest establishments in the country, indeed it had become famous for its Temple of the Three Treasures, which housed scrolls and Buddhist artefacts said to be priceless, specifically one penned by the legendary monk Tripitaka some time further back in the past. To this place a couple of notables were invited, both to dispense advice on the appointment of a new abbot since the current one was getting on a bit, and first to arrive with his courtesan and valet was Esquire Wen (Sun Yueh), a wealthy businessman. But what if he really needs a cash injection?

In fact, what if just about every visitor to this monastery was in need of a lot of easy money, and fast? Esquire Wen, you see, is not what he seems, or rather his servants were not, for they were both seasoned criminals, that courtesan is actually White Fox (Hsu Feng, soon to be a powerful producer), for instance, an experienced thief who is there to combine forces with the valet to nick the scroll of Tripitaka. No matter how much the head monk laughs off its status as a small object of desire, other characters will stop and nothing to secure it, the other main coveter being General Wang (Tien Feng) who shows up later on as a rival in greed to the already scheming Wen and co.

This was a King Hu film and is often cited as his last work of real significance since after this his star began to fall as far as critical reputation went, only rising again around the nineties, a decade that sadly saw his demise. Nowadays, he has moved from much-respected international standing that his epic A Touch of Zen awarded him in the seventies to a cult figure who may have been out of step with his times after changing Asian cinema with his sixties wuxia movies a few years before this, largely thanks to an obvious artistry that appeals as much to the arthouse as it did to the martial arts fans. Raining in the Mountain, a title alluding to a spiritual state, was more on the arthouse side.

Shot back to back with Legend of the Mountain, appropriately enough, this was essentially a romp through a crime that, we guess early on, will have to be extraordinarily well-executed to even have a hope of success. Certainly Wen's cohorts come across as capable, but are they capable enough? White Fox voices dissatisfaction early on that this job is next to impossible, and it is true that up until the finale nobody has so much of a sniff at that scroll so snugly ensconced in the treasure temple. Yet the message was that the scroll itself was more or less worthless, and it was the philosophy it contained that was the important thing, making ownership of it meaningless; you could own a copy and it would mean the same, it was the words contained within that were the crucial part, not a tattered piece of paper they were written on.

Thus the obsession with owning the paper missed the point completely - it was after all simply a bit of paper. Had Wen and the General been more in touch with their religious side then they would understand that, yet it takes a real knock to wake them up to the fact they are barking up the wrong tree, as is anyone who would wish to sell the parchment for any kind of sum. Though there were bursts of action, the pedantic nature of Hu's direction should have by all rights made for an overstretched experience, yet the opposite was true, for though you could tell when the movie was taking its time over something - a journey, a ritual, a chase or avoiding sequence - it positively breezed along, never feeling as if it was running too long. This was useful in that you had time to muse over the ironies in the script that highlighted the misguided greed of humanity (you can't take it with you), but also, while it pored over its themes a shade too long, the materialism of the villains and antiheroes offered a lesson even non-Buddhists could perceive and acknowledge. Music by Ng Tai Kong.

[Eureka's Blu-ray has the following features:

Limited Edition O-Card (First print run of 2000 copies only)
1080p transfer of the film on Blu-ray, from the Taiwan Film Institute's 2K restoration
Progressive encode on DVD
Optional English subtitles
Original Mandarin audio, fully restored and uncompressed in its original monaural presentation
Brand new and exclusive feature-length audio commentary by critic and Asian cinema expert Tony Rayns
Beyond Description A brand new video essay by David Cairns
Trailer
PLUS: a collector's booklet featuring new essays by Chinese-language film expert and author Stephen Teo; and Asian cinema expert David West, news editor at NEO magazine.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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