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Classic Chinese Cinema:Raining in the Mountain

17 May 2012 | Chinese Films | by David Zou

raining-in-the-mountain-king-hu

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.

The Story

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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…

The Action

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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

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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.

Test 1

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.

Test 2

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.

The Ending

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”.

The Theme

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.

The Influence

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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)

 

 

 


   

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  • This sounds incredible but I’ve never seen it. I saw Hu’s similarly-titled Legend of the Mountain, which I found to be a rather un-thrilling ghost story, and assumed this was somehow a companion piece. Glad to hear that’s not the case. I really love Hu’s early films so I’m now eager to see one made as late as ’79 that is still excellent. And I knew that Come Drink with Me and Touch of Zen were an influence on Crouching Tiger but I didn’t know this one was as well; Ang Lee must be a King Hu fanatic!

    • You MUST check this out,Mike. Legend of the Mountain and even the early films are nothing quite like it.This is the peak of King Hu’s career,and the best film about the Zen meanings.Ang Lee has that literati quality in him,that’s why he can make films like Crouching Tiger,it’s such a pity that this film is far behind CTAHD in terms of reputation.

      • The “peak”, huh? That is some high praise! In addition to A Touch of Zen, I also LOVE Dragon Gate Inn and The Fate of Lee Khan. I just checked Netflix and my favorite local video store, neither of which has Raining . . . so I’m “illegally” downloading it. I will let you know what I think. In the meantime, keep those classic Chinese cinema recommendations coming!

        • Downloading is alright,haha,I hope the subtitles do not suck too bad!!Do let me know when you are done,and the series will come on and on!!

  • Speaking of Chinese films, do you know anything about the forthcoming Double Trouble starring Jaycee Chan? I believe it’s going to be opening in Chicago in a few weeks: http://www.chinalionentertainment.com/

    • No,I have no idea what it is about,it looks like a popcorn film? Jaycee Chan looks cute but nothing else like his father.If I were you,I’d rather check out “Love in the Buff”,directed by Pang Ho-Cheung,it’s the sequel of “Love in a Puff”,interesting stuff.

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  • Henry Chan

    Thank you for your review, watching these video reminded how little time King Hu and I discussed about what he wanted visually cause his vision was already story boarded out. He was an artist, a scholar, a master film director and art collector. It was an honor to work with him on Raining and Legend. Yes, I was honor be his cinematographer.