When talking about wuxia film,King Hu‘s Raining in the Mountain is a quintessential one.Not only because it has actions in wuxia style,but also it explains the meaning of Zen perfectly well.After his other masterpieces like Come Drink with Me,Dragon Inn and A Touch of Zen,his unique artistry reached pinnacle with this film.
An esquire brings a female thief and his bailiff to search out a priceless handwritten scroll by Tripitaka, in a temple at the mountains. Meanwhile, a General and his lieutenant arrives for the same reason. Both of them are invited to help advise the ailing Abbot of his successor. The esquire and the General supports a different senior disciple…
What’s really amazing Hu does with the actions here is the way he uses spaces,both in small and grand scale.There is a scene in which the female thief and the bailiff goes away after they stole the sutra,but are held up by the lieutenant who’s also in search for the scroll.What’s interesting about the context is they need to have a fight in a temple,which noise is disallowed.So the three of them starts a fight in a quite sense.And in order not to be found by other monks,the space of their “battleground” is limited to a small corridor.There is no big actions happening,the characters,like the clown characters in Peking Opera,just jump and dodge here and there in a Peking opera beat,the sutra has been in everyone’s hand yet no one is secure to win it.The process is full of suspense and the action design is refreshing and masterful,easily one of my fave action scene in any wuxia film.The grand action scene is not as well-designed and smart as the smaller ones,and even not as good as the bamboo forest scene in A Touch of Zen,so I will skip here.
The Zen Meaning
What sets apart King Hu’s wuxia films from those from another Hongkong wuxia master Cheh Chang is the literati quality he possesses,and it is best exampled in this film.Hu is telling a Zen story throughout the film,though not as externally expressed as the light of Buddha in A Touch of Zen,it is hidden in many scenes and need a sharp eye to discover.
There is a scene that the abbot gives the three monks a test,he asks them to get a bucket of clean water,it is more like a lesson than a test.The zen meaning hidden in it is that everything originates from the inner world,if your inner world is pure,everything you see is pure.
There is another great scene that all the monks are asked to read scriptures outside the temple,and beside them are dozens of women taking bath nakedly.The zen meaning is quite similar to the last one,it asks for a strong will that can resist any temptation from the outside world.
At the end of the story,the newly chosen abbot Qiu Ming burned the sutra,it is treasure in the eyes of common people but only a piece of paper in a master’s eye.And the female thief White Fox finally joined the temple,and it is a reflection of the famous Buddhism saying “A butcher becomes a Buddha the moment he drops his Cleaver”.
Though loaded with tons of zen meaning in it,the theme of the film is nothing religious,Hu just uses Buddhism to compare with the evil and ugliness in common people.There is no good guy and bad guy in traditional sense,but only common people and those who can perceive the meaning of zen,even some of the monks in it have desire and greed.It also means that entering a temple does not mean you are a Buddha,and to be a Buddha,you don’t have to be a monk previously,it all depends on your inner world.What an irony that the fight for a sutra happens under the eyes of Buddha and only when it happens here does the dark side of humanity expose so completely to the audience.
After this film,this genre goes to the complete opposite,Tsui Hark opened a new era of special effect wuxia,and the literati quality was lost for a long time,until Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon won the Oscar best foreign language film,Ang Lee brought back what Hu did in his era.Watch these two films back to back,you can find so many characters and scenes Ang Lee stole from the original.He did a brilliant job to introduce the literati wuxia to Hollywood but his film is still far from his ancestor’s work.Raining in the Mountain is the ultimate wuxia film which is fulfilled with the understanding of the zen concept from the best wuxia film director ever,its value needs to be re-discovered by the world audiences.
There was a German dvd release back in 2008,if you can’t get it,try clips below(The opening theft and the final hunt down)