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Raining in the Mountain
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by Jay Seaver

"Greed and goodness are a tricky mix."
4 stars

There's a special delight to be found in setting a heist caper in a place where everybody should be above that sort of criminal activity - well, more so than we all should. That's a big part of what makes "Raining in the Mountain" a lot of fun at its best moments, and why any swing back toward sincerity is something that must be handled carefully.

The goal of this particular band of thieves is a scroll written by the monk Tripitaki himself. It is stored at the Three Treasures Temple, whose abbot is retiring, and has asked Esquire Wen (Suen Yuet) to help him choose a successor. Coveting the scroll, Wen has two plans - firstly, the abbot's second disciple Hui Wan (Lu Chan) has agreed to give it to him if chosen, but the woman he introduces as his concubine is actually White Fox (Hsu Feng), a master thief. Wen isn't the only friend advising the abbot, though - General Wang Chi (Feng Tien) seems to have a similar deal with first disciple Hui Tung (Shih Jun), and his aide Chang Chen is a former policeman who once arrested White Fox. Then there's lay expert Wu Wai (Wu Chia-hsiang), who travels with an entourage of beautiful women, and convict Chiu Ming (Tung Lam), who has paid a special fine to enter the monastery and become a monk at just this time.

It doesn't exactly seem as though anybody in this place has made particularly great progress in freeing himself or herself from desire, does it? There's a vein of cheerfully wry cynicism running through the movie, especially at the start, as the monks sneak off to buy things from merchants and White Fox has trouble understanding exactly both why Wen wants this scroll so badly and how the temple's three treasures can be intangible qualities. The thief, it turns out, may be the most honest person there.

Except she's not, and the film's later move toward earnest description of Buddhist virtues and the efforts needed to keep the temple running smoothly is pure of heart and nicely presented, but it feels like it comes from another movie. There are moments that do a little to build character, but not so much for the main players. It's good that very few in the cast are merely plot devices rather than reasonably complete humans, and that writer/director King Hu isn't completely cynical about his setting; it would be even better if the film didn't have to stop to demonstrate this.

After all, the picture a great deal of fun when things are moving at a brisk clip. Raining in the Mountain doesn't have a great deal of action of the swordplay or people-hitting-each-other variety, but characters run around a lot, athletically and acrobatically getting into forbidden locations and out of sight. Hu uses long, unbroken shots to not only show that Hsu and company are managing some nifty stuntwork, but also letting the audience see just what this heist in this location entails. The last-act chase sequence is especially impressive - as much as it's very funny, bringing to mind a cartoon where characters run in opposite directions with their prize until smacking into an immovable obstacle, it's also when the characters in this farce show they mean business, although the world itself may turn against them and expose their true selves.

The cast makes those reactions while something else is going on the basis of some fine characterization, each finding a different way to manifest their characters' amorality. Hsu Feng and Suen Yuet are especially entertaining, both individually and together - this is not the sort of heist movie that's a romantic comedy at heart, and for all that White Fox is pretty and graceful, there's a blunt, gruff nature to her that opposes rather than complement's Suen's smooth sophistication as Wen. Suen also plays off Tien's General Wang as well as one would hope - they both present themselves as gentlemen, even if less impressive sides emerge naturally.

It's an impressive group brought together in a very attractive setting, and the way they plan and attempt their crime is the sort of fun that lets something a little less lightweight slip in. The moments when Hu and company put their nobler intentions in the foreground aren't quite so impressive, but they are just interesting enough to not take away from all that "Raining in the Mountain" does very well.

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originally posted: 03/27/13 13:26:07
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Directed by
  King Hu

Written by
  King Hu

  Feng Hsu
  Yueh Sun
  Chun Shih
  Feng Tien
  Hui Lou Chen

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