King Hu Double Feature: ‘Legend of the Mountain’ And ‘Raining in the Mountain’

by Rachel Bellwoar

Filmed back-to-back in South Korea (even simultaneously according to Grady Hendrix in his booklet essay, “The Dreamlife of Scholars”) from 1977 to 1978, King Hu’s Raining in the Mountain and Legend of the Mountain are now available on Blu-Ray thanks to Film Movement and Kino Lorber.

Using many of the same locations and cast members, both films revolve around a highly coveted Buddhist sutra, except in Legend of the Mountain it’s ghosts who want the sutra and in Raining of the Mountain it’s all of these people who are allegedly gathering to help the abbot (Chin Chang-Ken) choose his successor but are really after the scroll.

In Legend of the Mountain, Ho (Shih Chun) is a scholar who’s been assigned to make a copy of the sutra. While he makes a lot of fuss about needing peace and quiet, he chooses the one place where there are people around to start working, until suddenly he’s married to a woman named Melody (Hsu Feng) who might not be human and surrounded by people who want to take the sutra from him as soon as he’s done.

Instead of sword or fist fighting, Melody and her rivals do battle through music. Melody’s weapon of choice is a drum, and it’s the supernatural elements of the film that work the most. The musical cues by Wu Ta-Chiang also help a lot in suspending disbelief and giving power to gestures like the mudras Ho uses to try and protect himself. Besides the booklet essay by Hendrix, which touches on Hu’s expressionistic editing, the use of borders in the film, and the similarities between Legend of the Mountain and Hu’s Touch of Zen, Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray includes a visual essay by film critic, Travis Crawford, called Legend of the Mountain and the Landscapes of King Hu, a photo gallery with some behind the scenes photos, and an especially helpful interview with film critic, Tony Rayns, in which he explains how the film was financed and looks at Hu’s creative relationship with his wife, Chung Ling, who wrote the screenplay. He also talks about how terrible the subtitles were on the original cut, and how the three-hour plus version was found (which is the one on this release).

If Legend of the Mountain‘s runtime causes the film to drag in places, Raining in the Mountain has no problem filling up its two hours. This time Feng plays one of the thieves after the scroll, along with Wu Ming-Tsai (who was the martial arts choreographer on both films and has some great facial expressions).

Similar to the drum fights in Legend of the Mountain, Hu elevates a child’s game of keep away into high art and the way the characters move, leaping around as though they were weightless, is aspirational. Film Movement’s Blu-Ray comes with a commentary track by Rayns, a booklet essay by NYAFF executive director, Samuel Jamier, called Farewell Dragon Inn, and a visual essay by author, Stephen Teo, called Treasure of the Spirit. Rayns brings up that the title might be referring to cleansing, while Jamier brings up renunciation of the past, since it only rains during the opening titles. Whatever reason Hu had for naming it Raining of the Mountain, it’s a film that should rein high in people’s esteem, especially as Raining and Legend become easier to watch.

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