Lesser Hu, But If You're A Fan...
David Alston | Chapel Hill, NC, USA | 09/27/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"King Hu belongs to a dubious group of filmmakers: the neglected; alongside the likes of Satyajit Ray, Mikio Naruse, Youssef Chahine and Ritwik Ghatak. As with all of those filmmakers, King Hu's work - when available at all (his legendary DRAGON INN is nearly impossible to find), is only available in dubious quality - fuzzy DVDs, cropped or pan-and-scan editions, VCDs, DVRs.
This is a shame - Hu's flair for history recalls Kenji Mizoguchi or Satyajit Ray, his personal and highly evolved spiritual ideas evoke Andrei Tarkovsky, and his flair for both landscape and action is reminiscent of Kurosawa or John Ford.
That noted, LEGEND OF THE MOUNTAIN - one of the handful of King Hu's films currently available - seems like lesser Hu. I'd say 'seems like,' because it's companion film, RAINING IN THE MOUNTAIN (the two films are apparently interrelated) has been mostly unavailable on VHS or DVD, save for a Japanese DVD edition (no English subs) recently released. Without seeing both, I'd guess that it would be difficult to evaluate in a thorough fashion.
Here we have a ghost story, heavily infused with Buddhist mysticism: a young, and rather earnest scholar (Hsu Feng, who also starred in Hu's extraordinary A TOUCH OF ZEN) retreats to semi-abandoned fortress in an isolated mountain range to study and translate an ancient sutra. Upon arrival, he immediately encounters a small, but eclectic cast of locals; his encounters with them propel him into a series of intrigues that ultimately escalates into a good-vs-evil struggle.
The story recalls A TOUCH OF ZEN in its' ambitions and complexity, but compressed into the 110-minute running time here, the entire story (and the acting) feels a little forced, and a little rushed. The cinematography (the film was shot on location in South Korea) seems to be dazzling, though currently available editions of the film are fairly grainy, and night scenes are very indistinct. Hu's sense of action fails him here; the majority of it seems very half-hearted, compared to earlier films, and Hu's sense of slapstick (one gets the distinct impression that some commerical pressures may have intruded upon this film) threatens to overtake that more supernatural sides to the story.
That being said, the film STILL looks good, and manages to be entertaining - and there are a few set pieces here that are breathtaking, in spite of the flaws also evident here. Perhaps for fans of Hu; but if you're one of those and you haven't seen this, you should.