Classic Film Review: “Raining in the Mountain” (1979) blends period detail, martial arts and comedy to grand effect

Here’s a fun martial arts Buddhist parable from the late pre-Jackie Chan era, a 1979 jewel that’s been newly-restored in ways that preserve the look, sound and feel of the age of the times, a moment in time caught amid the emergence of Hong Kong cinema.

King Hu’s “Raining in the Mountain” is a period piece with a large cast, an epic mountainside temple setting and a story that is filled with murderous intrigues and hilarious scheming and double-dealing.

An aged abbot (Sun Han) has summoned officials and benefactors to the Temple of Three Treasures to help pick his successor. General Wang (Feng Tien) and his Lieutenant Chang Chen (Kuang Yu Wang) have their reasons for backing this or that candidate.

I don’t know the Mandarin equivalent for “Quid pro quo,” but there’s a little of that in all this, too.

Esquire Wen (Yueh Sun) has more than just an agenda. He wants this rare “sutra” (scripture) that the monastery has in its scripture room. And when his “concubine” (Feng Hsu) and valet sneak off to take a look around and try their hand at picking a few locks, we see just what the rich benefactor has in mind. And the General and Lieutenant pick up on that, recognizing the sexy thief known as “White Fox” (Hsu) in Wen’s employ.

“There’s more to this man than meets the eye.”

What ensues is a near-comedy of intrigues, spying and skulking about with revelations about which of the three scheming candidate monks (Chun Shih, Paul Chun, Hui-Lou Chen) each backs to replace the venerable abbot.

The abbot and his most trusted aides concoct a Zen test or two to see which of the monks is best-suited to guide the temple in the future.

Hu (“Dragon Inn”) spared no expense for costumes, but the film has the unmistakable dated touches that made early Hong Kong cinema instantly recognizable, even with your eyes closed.

The music is largely tinkly Chinese theater comic “effect” sounds, and the soundtrack itself has that distinct tinny tone that the earliest Bruce Lee films sported. The sumptuous lighting and colors, symbolic and tonal depth of the classic Mainland (PRC) cinema developed in the ’80s is far off on the horizon.

The look is well-lit and flat.

This is an attempted “epic” from an industry (filmed in Hong Kong and Taiwan) that was churning out commercial fare on a budget, films often limited (as this one is) to a single main location.

But what Hu gets out of the temple setting is period perfect and heavily populated (many many monks) to an impressive degree And a madcap third act martial arts fight-chase (limited wire work, but lots of trampoline jumps) through forests, along the cliffs of a river, is whimsical with just a hint of grandeur about it.

MPA Rating: Unrated, violence

Cast: Feng Hsu, Yueh Sun, Chun Shih, Paul Chun, Hui-Lou Chen, Feng Tien, Lin Tung, Su Han and Kuang Yu Wang

Credits: Written and directed by King Hu. Now streaming on Film Movement+

Running time: 2:02

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