From the mid-60s to the end of the ’70s, the Hong Kong director King Hu (who died in 1997) made some of the most distinctive, daring and enjoyable wuxia (literally, “martial heroes”) films ever. “Raining in the Mountain,” from 1979, is the latest Hu to benefit from a restoration and it’s a treat.
One of the things that made Hu’s output daring was its foregrounding of female characters. From “Come Drink With Me” in 1966 to “The Fate of Lee Khan” in 1973 and beyond, he depicted fierce women warriors who provided the inspiration for, among others, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
In “Raining in the Mountain,” the central female character is something of an antihero. White Fox, played with brisk, exemplary swagger by Hsu Feng, is a master thief employed by a corrupt landowner who wants to purloin a priceless sutra from a Buddhist monastery. Soon after they arrive, complications ensue in the form of a general and a crooked cop who also want the scroll.
Despite her petulant disdain for the object of their thievery — “What do you want with a ragged old scroll?” she says to her boss after her first, abortive attempt to snag the object — White Fox is the most intelligently pragmatic of the criminals at work here.
The monastery where chases and double-crosses occur is, as the film scholar David Bordwell has noted, “a booby-trapped maze of walls and jutting rooftops that obscure and then reveal the characters.” But the most furious and complex battles occur in the forest outside, a space that’s open both horizontally and vertically, the better for the combatants to fly up trees.
This is spectacular, exhilarating entertainment. One might be moved to say, corny as it sounds, “All hail King Hu.”
Raining in the Mountain
Not rated. In Mandarin, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours. Watch through Film Forum’s virtual cinema.