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Friday, June 5, 2009

'I Come With the Rain'

Blood is the new black


Vietnamese filmmaker Tran Anh Hung has a distinctive, high-contrast track record.

I Come With the Rain Rating: (3 out of 5)
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I Come With the Rain
Go, go, gore: Bung Hung Lee in "I Come With the Rain" © LAM DUC HIEN

Director: Tran Anh Hung
Running time: 114 minutes
Language: English
Opens June 6, 2009
[See Japan Times movie listing]

Tran's debut feature "The Scent of Green Papaya" (1993) was a Vietnamese/Proustian rush of Saigon nostalgia circa late 1950s when life was slow and contemplative, and not so entrenched in war.

Two years later his eagerly awaited second work caught fans off guard — thinking they were in for another impeccably languid depiction of old Vietnam, instead they were assaulted by a brutal fable called "Cyclo" (1995).

Then five years went by and Tran came out with "The Vertical Ray of Light" (2001), gemlike in its perfected attention to detail, about three Hanoi sisters immersed in impossibly romantic lives.

It followed that film No. 4 would probably be an exercise in Asian edge once more. Indeed, Tran adheres to that alternating pattern of beauty-beastly-beauty, with the monstrous "I Come With the Rain" premiering in Japan tomorrow.

To describe "I Come With the Rain" as violent would be a miss-service. It's horrifically, perversely brutish, wallowing in a cloying blood pool of sado-masochism. At the same time, the film is spankingly stylish and heavily philosophical — Anh (now in his late 40s) was a philosophy major in college and a certain questioning pensiveness (albeit one wrapped in designer threads) has always permeated his stories. "I Come With the Rain" is like that. Though it deals with religious symbolism (at one point a man is crucified on a makeshift cross after the contents of an automatic are emptied at close range right into his gut), the story cross-examines rather than makes any giant leaps of faith. And for all the references to Christ and the New Testament (the rather obvious appearance of an Asian Mary Magdalene is a prime example), there's never a single mention of a Higher Power.

There is however, a Father — unseen and heard only over an intercom speaker.

This Father lords over a pharmaceutical conglomerate but a phobia of contamination restricts all forms of communication, even with his only son, Shitao, whom he has not seen in person since the boy was 10. Now in his 30s, Shitao (Takuya Kimura) has gone missing in the Philippines where he had been helping in an orphanage. The father-son relationship is only hinted at but it seems that Father had spent his life avoiding mankind while Shitao had done his best to get as close as possible to people and their pain.

Temporarily shelving their differences, Father hires ex-LAPD cop Kline (Josh Hartnett) to go get Shitao.

Kline has nightmares of his own: Memories of a serial murderer whose specialty was dissecting his victims' limbs while they were still alive, then reassembling them into installation sculptures. But he flies out to Asia and the trail takes him to Hong Kong where a former buddy cop Meng Zi (Shawn Yue) promises to help. But they're both distracted in the search by mafia boss Su Dongpo (Byung Hung Lee), who's making trouble for the underworld, triggered by an overriding passion for his junkie girlfriend Lili (Tran Nu Yen Khe).

Typical of all Tran's films, the plot is almost beside the point — "I Come With the Rain" is a triumph of ambience over content. The viewer tours a netherworld drawn up to the exact aesthetic measurements of Tran Anh Hung where everything — from the peculiar texture of a single noodle strand to a blood- spattered wall surrounded by jungle botanica — is a precisely matched puzzle piece that forms a whole, discernible mood. That the mood instigates nothing but a queasy terror is purely intentional — Tran aims only to disturb and disgust. The capper is an execution scene of man made to step into a plastic body bag, neatly zipped up and then beaten to death with a hammer. No mess, no fuss: a sardonic combination of Asian efficiency and Cartesian, time-saving logic.

An interview with director Tran Anh Hung conducted by film critic Giovanni Fazio will appear in The Japan Times on Sunday.

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