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venerdì 29 luglio 2011

Redefining a genre with a touch of Buddhism. King Hu’s Kong Shan Ling Yu (Raining in the mountain, 1979).

In a monastery over a mountain the old abbot is preparing for Nirvana, he’s old and is going to decide soon who will be his successor. For this reason, General Wang (Feng Tien) and wealthy merchant Wen (Yueh Sun) are called in to help with their suggestions. But both of them have their own goal to achieve: to steal the Tripitaka a unique sacred scroll held in the library of the monastery. White Fox (Feng Hsu) and Gold Lock (Ming-tsai Wu), two master thieves are helping the merchant while Wang is helped by policeman Chang Cheng. Also both of them are promoting each one his favourite disciple to the succession, with the promise, in exchange, to get the sacred scroll or to be helped in the theft. But the Abbot and the other holy leader decide to appoint a newly ordered monk, an unjustly sentenced former convict that has come to live in the monastery as a monk instead to be put in prison. The newcomer demonstrated in just few days, humility and devotion while all the others are only pursuing personal interests, drove by their own greed. Shot in 1979 Raining In The Mountain could be considered as part of a Zen trilogy shot by Hu, that includes his masterpiece Xia Nu (A touch of Zen, 1971) and Shan Zhong Zhuan Gi (Legend Of The Mountain,1979). The film is masterly shot continuing to redefine a genre, the martial arts one, that Hu initiated the previous decade with his two famous Da Zui Xia (Come Drink With Me, 1966) and Long Men Kezhan (Dragon Gate Inn, 1967).
Come Drink With Me signed a milestone in Wuxia changing from a technical point of view the way to shoot a martial art film. The stagey fights of elder films left room to a fast paced cut of many takes that improved the sense of action and the viewer’s feeling to be part of it. Hu also introduced the female character as integrant part of the story, dominant and leader, not only a passive object of men’s passion. Even in Raining In The Mountain, White Fox is a well trained woman, with strong physical skills and the strong will to be the only judge of her own decisions. Those looking for a kill them all martial arts film, will be disappointed, RITM is a reflection on mankind’s greed and need of possession while trying to introduce the audience to some basic element of Zen Buddhism. The scroll, as the abbot declares, is unworthy of all this attention. It’s only an old piece of paper and his valuable doctrine must be carried inside our hearts. This is the only thing that counts since transcendence is not tight to a physical object. We can free ourselves only when we’ll get rid of our helpless need to possess things. In the end the new abbot, to general delusion, will destroy the scroll, as it brought only misfortune over the monastery. He has made copies of it, so that its teachings could be learned by everybody. There’s no need to keep the original anymore, it’s not it, but what’s on it that has relevance. But the monastery is also a microcosm of a modern society. The fights for power are exactly the same occurring in a government, as the movie could be read as an allegory of the struggle for Mao’s inheritance, and also of the corruption in the church as well. The first fight in the movie occurs after 45 minutes and there’s almost no other until the end. This could sound boring, but it’s not. The action is kept running, following all the plots of the two fractions to possess the scroll. The camera is always close to one of the character s as he/she is spying unnoticed someone else. There are a lot of wonderful camera movements; long track sequences that amaze and keep the viewer’s attention on constant alert. Hu’s technical skills are outstanding as is the way he shoots the fights with an incredible rhythm, created by the many takes cut together. The composition of the frame is beautiful to watch, when Hu films also the many landscapes around the mountain and in the climax at the end in a forest, a source of inspiration for Zhang Yimou’s Shi Mian Mai Fu (House Of Flying Daggers,2004). The DVD examined here has been released in France by SFS in 2004 (Region 2). Re-mastered probably from a positive print and quite restored, even if the image is too soft at times (DVNR). Colours are good, and the OAR of 2.35:1 is anamorphic enhanced. Mandarin mono audio it’s ok, with French and English subtitles available. Extras are only liner notes on cast and crew and critical essays. There are other editions of this film in Germany and many bootlegs around, but this one is proven worthy. I strongly recommend Hu’s films even to people not that much into this genre, but that are  lovers of foreign movies. His approach is unique and there’s a lot to learn from his technical ability. Like in most of the old movies, there’ are no CGI tricks, no wires and no flying popstars. The golden era of the Wuxia and martial arts is long time gone. Unfortunately. 

Film mass is ended you may go in peace

The Vikar


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