Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I Come With the Rain

“I Come With the Rain”, director Tran Anh Hung’s latest film, is a violent, atmospheric neo-noir detective yarn that bounces from Los Angeles to the Philippines, but ultimately settles and finds itself amidst the neon and glass skyscrapers of Hong Kong. It boasts an all-star international cast, a twisted story, and slick production.

An unseen germaphobic Chinese billionaire hires Kline (Josh Hartnett), an LA based private investigator, to find his missing son Shitao (Takuya Kimura). Kline wears the requisite scars of a past that still haunts him, but his story is warped enough to make it interesting. When he was a cop he spent 27 months hunting Hasford (Elias Koteas), a serial killer who dissected his victims alive and made intricate installation sculptures out of their body parts. In order to catch Hasford, Kline had to get into his head, to become like him, a journey he never fully recovered from.
Shitao was last seen working at an orphanage in the Philippines, but when Kline arrives there his predecessor says that he has heard rumors that Shitao was murdered. As it turns out, Shitao is not dead, but in Hong Kong, living an ascetic life in an improvised tent on the outskirts of the city. Though afflicted by fits, he has developed mysterious healing powers. Desperate, hopeless people flock to him, and at great cost to himself he absorbs their pain, their ailments, their suffering. Over time word of his powers spread, and he becomes a hobo messiah.
Kline’s investigation cuts back and forth across Hong Kong, full of near misses with Shitao, and regular encounters with local gangster Su Dongpo (Lee Byung-hun). Su Dongpo is ruthless. At one point he makes a guy zip himself up in a body bag then proceeds to beat him to death with a hammer. Later he shoots a homeless man’s dog and beats him with it. The guy is rough.
These three archetypal film types—the detective, the gangster, and the Christ figure—cross paths with each other and their stories weave together and tangle, bringing them closer and closer to conflict.
I have a strange soft spot for Hartnett. It stems from how awesome “The Faculty” is, as well as “Pearl Harbor”, the greatest comedy of my generation (I’m not kidding, I’m not trying to be clever, it really is the funniest movie I’ve ever seen). He always seems like he should be better than he is, but for once he is actually pretty good in “I Come With the Rain”. His character is truly still haunted by Hasford, and in order to find Shitao, he has to once again delve deep into another man’s psyche, kicking up some of his old demons in the process.
For all of the horrific things Su Dongpo does, he truly loves his junkie girlfriend Lili (Tran Nu Yen Khe-director's wife) so he is not completely without humanity. As much anyone acting in movies today, Lee can tell an entire story with a single look. His character doesn’t have many lines because he doesn’t need them. He articulates rage, pain, love, and every other emotion with subtle tweaks of his expression.
Kimura as the stand in Jesus is interesting. His gift causes him terrible pain, and he is frightened, but he is also such a pure and good soul that he continues forward despite the high personal cost. The wounds of those he heals become his wounds, their pain becomes his pain, and he suffers for their adulation.
Visually, “I Come With the Rain” is beautiful. Tran makes full use of the unique cityscape of Hong Kong. Every frame is intricately staged, every person, board, building, and puff of smoke is where it should be, and the camera moves are smooth and fluid. The photography is as complex and elaborate as the story and characters. Within a single frame Tran creates multiple layers, using reflections, shadows, and depth of focus. From there he piles on other shots, and lets the action from these separate shots blend together. Figures in one frame seamlessly interact with those in others, until you’re not sure what is the present, what is the past, and what is imagination, and it becomes a delicate visual representation of Kline’s unraveling psychological state.
Throughout, the imagery is unique and fascinating. Hasford’s art, while vile and shocking, is really, really cool. He melds flesh and limbs into sprawling, twisting sculptures that all seem to scream, mimicking the interior pain of everyone in the film. Su Dongpo gives a gift of crabs elaborately bound together with twine and stacked in a wicker basket. In close-up a live maggot crawls along the rim of Shitao’s eye as he sits, unblinking.
“I Come With the Rain” is not an action movie. There are a couple of brief chase scenes, which oddly enough both prominently feature cars going full speed in reverse, but it is tense and moody psychological thriller. Instead of the characters threatening each other or giving long monologues, they rely on subtly to carry the conflict. The film manages to be eerie and suspenseful, to tell a complicated story with numerous layers, all with minimal dialogue.
The music accentuates the on screen action. By turns it is discordant, droning, and vaguely psychedelic. At times it is noisy and hallucinatory, throbbingly mechanical, and serves to up the tension and ambiance. Argentinean composer Gustavo Santaolalla (“Amores perros”, “Brokeback Mountain”) scored the film along with Radiohead, and the soundtrack features such post-rock luminaries as Godspeed You! Black Emperor, A Silver Mount Zion, and Explosions in the Sky, who all specialize in dark, atmospheric instrumentals that mesh nicely with the overall tone.
The only knock I have against “I Come With the Rain” is that at times the Christ metaphor can be heavy-handed. There is the unseen father, an obvious Mary Magdalene, and a few other parallels that are a little too on the nose. But even these aren’t that big a deal, and you can dismiss them with a shrug of your shoulders and a skeptical, “Really?” and be move on without being too distracted.
“I Come With the Rain” is by turns gritty and violent, and hopeful and redemptive. Sounds suspiciously like the story of Jesus, doesn’t it? Themes of contamination and cleansing run throughout. It has everything a good, tense crime thriller needs—cops, gangsters, guns, hookers, blood, tormented characters—and a whole lot more. All of the elements work well together to create a unique and beautiful film.

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