Set in a remote 16th-century Chinese Buddhist monastery, King Hu’s 1979 film Raining in the Mountain is a beautifully executed blend of heist movie-esque intrigue, spirituality, comedy and drama that revolves around the power struggle that ensues when the monastery’s abbot announces his impending retirement.

Released for the first time on DVD and Blu-Ray in the UK on February 24th, it’s a wonderful example of how vital releases like this are for bringing films such as this one to a wider audience, ensuring that it is actually available to those that are interested in uncovering a hidden gem by a director more famous for other works. Raining in the Mountain was financially unsuccessful when it first opened in 1979 and its international reach was minimal at best, but thankfully it will now reach the wider audience it deserves.

Director King Hu weaves multiple webs over the course of the film. At its centre lies a heist, as multiple parties are interested in acquiring the very valuable handwritten scroll of Tripitaka, using the hubbub of the upcoming selection of a new abbot as a distraction while they attempt to get it for their own ends. While the film does have some excellently shot sequences of people attempting to sneak into the monastery’s library room to obtain the scroll, it is not its only focus. Hu addresses themes of corruption, greed, redemption and forgiveness amidst a layered story that features many characters who end up at the monastery for very different reasons.

The ensemble cast is uniformly excellent, particularly Hsu Feng, who collaborated with Hu on many projects, as the thief White Fox, and Sun Yueh as the conniving Esquire Wen, who is after the scroll. Hu does a great job of foregrounding each story and blending them together when required, interspersing the intrigue and deception with gorgeously filmed fight scenes, each of which is choreographed beautifully, the motion fluid and seamless. Hu has been described as a balletic filmmaker, his focus on the precise, kinetic energy of his martial arts sequences a key staple of his films, and it’s no different here. The juxtaposition of the often humorous sniping the characters do at each other with these beautifully constructed fight and heist sequences makes the film all the more enjoyable to behold.

Indeed, the cinematography is what is often likely to catch the eye. Each shot is framed gorgeously, and whether Hu was filming the monastery grounds or the wide-open spaces of the countryside, there is always a keen awareness of that space and how it can be used to accentuate the scene. Watching the characters move through each shot, especially when they are sneaking or fighting, is a delight. The film’s restoration for this release is admirable if not always consistent, the colour often fluctuates and quality can vary, but this is due to the fact the film had to be patched up from different sources, and doesn’t take too much away from how gorgeous these sequences are.

Raining in the Mountain deserves to be seen, and appreciated. The way it blends its core themes together is to be commended, and it never feels like it’s trying to do too much. It’s funny at times, dramatic at others, and pensive and thoughtful when it needs to be. Most of all, it’s always entertaining, and sometimes breathtaking in its cinematography. A great showcase of King Hu’s considerable talent.

Dir: King Hu

Scr: King Hu

Cast: Hsu Feng, Sun Yueh, Tien Feng, Tung Lin, Paul Chun Pui, Shih Chun

Prd: Kai-Mu Lo, Ling Chung

DOP: Henry Chan

Music: Tai King Ng

Country: Hong Kong, Taiwan

Year: 2020

Run time: 120 mins

Raining in the Mountain is out now on DVD and Blu-ray as part of the Masters of Cinema series.