Foreign Objects travels the world of international cinema each week to look for films worth visiting. So renew your passport and get your shots, because this week we’re heading to…
Those of you familiar with this column know that I don’t shy away from the international smut (see here for example). But even though the title of this week’s foreign film is potentially rife with innuendo and sexual shenanigans tied to prevailing weather patterns, I’m sad to say the movie itself is not. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its fair share of naked and sweaty Asian ladies though. Is perspiration the same as precipitation? No. It’s better.
I Come With The Rain opens with someone beating the crap out of Josh Hartnett with a baseball bat. (Seems to me that should have been the entire advertising campaign…) The scene is a flashback endured by an ex-cop turned L.A. private eye named Kline (Hartnett), and the man beating him is a serial killer named Hasford (Elias Koteas). He was Kline’s last case as a cop and a madman with unusual predilections (and an odd artistic integrity). I say ‘was’ because Kline killed him, and the painfully gruesome experience was enough to make him retire.
A reclusive corporate billionaire hires Kline to find his son, Shitao (Japanese TV star Takuya Kimura),who was last seen working in a Filipino orphanage. Kline follows the trail from the Philippines where witnesses claim to have seen Shitao shot to death, to Hong Kong where the missing man appears to be healing the sick and infirm. His investigation finds him crossing paths with a gangster named Su Dongpo (Lee Byung-hyeon) whose drug-addicted girlfriend has also gone missing… and is currently being held in a shack by Shitao.
Seems like a pretty straight-forward thriller doesn’t it? Well it’s not. Don’t let it fool you… the promise in that synopsis above is as representative of the entire film as 2001 was to Hartnett’s entire career. (See, he was in seven movies in 2001 including blockbusters like Pearl Harbor and Blackhawk Down, and he was a guaranteed movie-star in the making…) Instead the story splits to follow two diverging paths. The first sees Kline’s sanity unraveling as his search leads to dead ends and his past deeds come back to haunt him. The second follows Dongpo’s search for his girlfriend by any means necessary. Shooting a homeless guy’s dog then beating the vagrant with the furry corpse? Yup, necessary. Making one of his men who failed to find the girl step into a body bag then beating him to death with a hammer? Sure, that’s probably necessary too.
In addition to the dueling story lines, the movie drops any resemblance to the thriller genre in regards to pacing, action, and outcome. Kline’s story moves forward and backwards in time and while it builds to a conclusion it’s not one based on a suspenseful build-up. We know early on that he kills Hasford, so instead the flashbacks serve to show Kline’s descent into Hasford’s world which includes the introduction of the “art” the killer makes from bodies both human and otherwise. There are no familiar beats here, no traditional chase scenes or stand-offs, and while both good and evil are represented the characters we’re actually following are muddling somewhere in between the two extremes.
The over-riding theme of redemption and salvation is often hard to see amidst the carnage and bleakness, but it’s definitely there. It’s most obvious in the Catholic imagery of crosses, dead man crawling out of caves, and the relationship between an unseen father who keeps his distance from humanity and his son who can’t help but wallow amongst the lowest and weakest members of the species. There’s even a Mary Magdalene-type, albeit in a sexy, scantily clad Vietnamese form. Both Kline and Dongpo are at crossroads of sorts. The detective’s is the most clear as he wavers between the tenuous evil of Hasford and the apparent good of Shitao, but Dongpo’s path towards salvation is equally interesting and unconventional.
Director Anh Hung Tran seems to have set upon an intriguing pattern for himself. Light, dark, light dark… from The Scent of Green Papaya which is a leisurely-told tale of sweet nostalgia and romance, to the darkly violent and disturbing Cyclo, to the light and airy beauty of The Vertical Ray of the Sun, and now back to the gruesome depravity of I Come With the Rain. The one continuous thread between the films though is the ability of Tran’s camera to find beauty in even the darkest corners of the human experience. The ambient visuals are complimented with an evocative soundtrack comprised mostly of Gustavo Santaolalla’s moody score and a handful of obscure but effective Radiohead songs.
This film marks the first truly international cast for the Vietnamese/French director as well. It’s a French production filmed mostly in English with actors from the US, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Japan, and Korea. Most of them acquit themselves well including Hartnett. His Kline is a severely troubled soul and Hartnett makes it evident in his every expression that a pain lies just beneath the surface of his skin. Byung-hyeon (G.I. Joe) first comes off as a retread of his train-robbing character from one of the best Korean films in recent years (The Good the Bad the Weird) but soon reveals him to be a villain of more emotional depths. Less lucky are Kimura and Shawn Yue as a cop friend of Kline’s in Hong Kong. Neither actor seem all that comfortable with the English language and it hinders their performances.
It’s worth mentioning again that regardless of the IMDB label, I Come With The Rain is not your typical thriller. The story, such as it is, is less concerned with telling a story than it is with raising questions and setting a mood. In that regard it succeeds brilliantly. The images and the sounds work together to create something you don’t expect and probably haven’t seen before. Narrative and logic are eschewed in favor of atmosphere and emotion. The success of the film will depend on the viewer’s patience and willingness to immerse themselves in a mystery without easy answers. Hell, even the questions are hard to come by at times. But there’s more than enough here to keep your mind moving and thinking, and regardless of where you stand on Tran’s exploration of guilt, salvation, good, and evil, the odds are you’ll stand firm in one direction or the other. There’s no indifference to a movie like this.
I Come With The Rain is currently only available on import DVD and Blu-ray. (You can currently find the DVD on Ebay for $8 plus s/h.)
The Upside: Beautiful and ugly in equal measures, thought-provoking, highly unconventional, alternately gritty and ethereal, the kind of film that you continue to think about long after it ends.
The Downside: Questionable pacing, narrative takes a backseat to atmosphere, some of the actors have a difficult time with their English, the kind of film you may stop thinking about well before it ends.
Related Topics: Foreign Objects