Korea has been issuing many fine films in recent years, to the point of becoming truly a center of world-class cinema.
While China pumps out kung fu epics that get sillier & sillier & look more & more like video games set in the magic land of alakazam; as Japanese films become increasingly sloppy hasty productions repetitiously about psycho gangsters or soggy girl ghosts; as Thai & Singaporian films by & large remain fairly primitive & soapy, Korea leaps out in front with the quality of filmmaking that was once associated primarily with Japan, with realistic action, intense emotions, in worlds modern or medieval that are absolutely real seeming.
A period murder mystery set in 1808 during the Josean aka Chosun Dynasty, Blood Rain (Hyeol-ui nu, 2005) is an excellent & involving story, on the order a Korean The Name of the Rose (1986) or a Brother Cadfael mystery.
Although there is some very brutal action & one of the goriest scenes of torture ever brought to the screen, this is not a swordplay film. Our noble detective does once draw his sword, but then puts it back in the sheathe. This really is a tale of mystery, first rate, & nothing so silly as flying kung fu sorcerers are to be seen.
Like Sherlock Holmes, our hero Won-kyu (Cha Seung-won) does not believe the supernatural explains anything, & always looks more deeply for the truth. The islanders are certain that a man wrongly tortured & killed seven years earlier has returned as a ghost to commit a series of grisly killings.
Won-kyu knows full well that if he can get to the heart of the matter, he'll find a living avenger. The facts will unfold for the viewing audience as they unfold for our heroic detective.
The movie begins with a mystical feeling as though we're about to enter the territory of supernatural horror, but of an aesthetic kind.
An isolated coastal island has become a center for the highest quality papermaking, resulting in a good deal of wealth for the islanders. A seasonal shipment has been prepared & is being loaded onto a ship, as a shamaness blesses the day with rituals attended by peasant dancing & music.
Suddenly the shamaness appears to become possessed & speaks in a gutteral voice, spewing a ghostly curse, which the peasants recognize at once as a reminder of deeds committed collectively against an innocent man & his family seven years prior.
At that moment the boat erupts in blazes destroying the season's paper production. Soonafter a man is found poisoned & impaled.
When government-appointed investigator Won-kyu arrives, he has to contend with the islanders' extremely superstitous nature, & their guilty certainty that the curse of the "blood rain" is coming true.
Our heroic detective is beautiful, sincere, & intelligent, a marvel to see in action. Won-kyu has forensic skills far in advance of those in the west of the time.
Within a day detective Won-kyu figures out who killed the impaled man, but the killer only poisoned the hated victim. The impaling committed upon the corpse was done by an unknown party, undoubtedly the same man who burned the boat & its shipment of fine papers, though he must next resolve how the impaler could seem to have been in two places at once.
A second murder occurs, the victim boiled alive, lowered head-first into a vat at the paper factory. The islanders seem to have known exactly how the murder would occur, & they believe they know how the next will occur.
Seven years earlier five inquisitional executions were committed against a family charged with the traitorous crime of Catholicism. An execution was performed once each day for five days, beginning with an impaling, then boiled alive, then suffocation, then spliting open the head, & lastly the family's patriarch torn limb from limb.
This was the whole of Commissioner Kang's family. In flashback we see him tied to four beasts, two of his legs & one arm pulled out of their sockets.
He lay with only one limb still attached, making the curse of the blood rain, for his family were never secret Catholics & the islanders knew it, but no one would speak in their behalf. Five informants had brought the government's inquisitioner to the island for reasons of greed & classism.
Won-kyu has three days to find & stop the avenger if he's to save even one of the informants' lives, whose identities the islanders won't reveal. Even the identity of the government inquisitionist is hidden from him, Learning who that was provides an enormous key to what this vengeance is really all about.
As he had predicted, the resolution to the gruesome murders does not require the supernatural explanation. Karma seems nevertheless to drive the avenger's success, & even Won-kyu's assignment to the case has a karmic connection.
He is frustrated in his efforts to save even one of the informants from horrific demises. The islanders can in no way be convinced by mere physical evidence & deduction that no ghost was involved.
The final climax is pure terror as the islanders snap & perpetrate the blood rain upon each other. And while I think the film could've been even better adhering to the resolution of the crimes & their cause as the primary conclusion, the final carnage is certainly something to see, adding up to a truly horrific conte cruel.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl