I wouldn’t call Raining in the Mountain King Hu’s most spiritual work, but it is the film in which his Buddhist philosophy is most clearly and elegantly expressed. The more iconic A Touch of Zen and Legend of the Mountain also explore religious themes, but their narratives are somewhat bloated and unwieldy; here, however, Hu adopts a simpler, stripped-down plot structure reminiscent of Dragon Inn and The Fate of Lee Kahn—an extremely beneficial creative choice.
The story revolves around a sacred scroll housed in a remote monastery; while the monks only value the scripture inscribed upon the “worthless scrap of tattered parchment,” several less enlightened characters—including a corrupt general and an ambitious nobleman—covet the relic itself, considering it a priceless artifact. Their greed and materialism lead to a suspenseful game of cat-and-mouse as they attempt to outmaneuver each other and curry favor with the abbot—all while their hired thieves, spies, and assassins skulk through the shadows of the temple in search of the hidden “treasure.”
Visually splendorous without being stylistically excessive, Raining in the Mountain represents Hu at his most mature, confident, and self-assured. I plan on revisiting it and further dissecting its subtleties when it’s released on Blu-ray later this month.