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Dir. King Hu
1979, Taiwan, Hong Kong, 120 min
Mandarin with English subtitles

During the Ming Dynasty, a Buddhist abbot charged with protecting the sacred scroll of Tripitaka prepares to name his successor. An aristocrat and a general arrive at his secluded mountaintop monastery promising to help in his search, but are in fact scheming to secure the scroll for themselves. As they set about recommending corrupt successors, rival bands of martial artists lie in wait to steal the precious artifact. Soon, the monastery is transformed into an epic battleground for the scroll, with each player caught in a web of betrayal. Called a “remarkably photographed caper heist [featuring] intriguing battles of wits and minds” (Far East Film Festival), Raining in The Mountain is also the peak of legendary director King Hu’s infusion of Buddhist spiritual principles into the legacy of martial arts cinema.

For Asian Heritage Month, the Dave Barber Cinematheque presents Dancing Swords: The Wuxia films of King Hu – showcasing five of King Hu’s exhilarating wuxia epics –  Dragon Inn (1967), A Touch of Zen (1971), The Fate of Lee Khan (1973), Legend of the Mountain (1979), and Raining in the Mountain (1979). Known for his genre-defining swordplay films that encapsulated breathtaking cinematography, graceful action choreography, enigmatic warrior heroines, densely structured mise-en-scenes, and existential transcendence, we celebrate Hu’s visionary artistry and formal innovations that raised the bar for the wuxia film and influenced the work of contemporary Hong Kong and Taiwanese directors such as Ang Lee, Wong Kar-wai, and Tsai Ming-liang – whose film Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003) will screen adjacent to Hu’s five film retrospective.

 Generously sponsored by IATSE 856 Manitoba.

Synthesizing disparate innovations from pan-Asian action filmmaking… Hu created the new gold standard. It is safe to say that subsequent wuxia, or martial arts films generally, would not look or move quite like they do without him. What has largely been discarded, however, is the pedagogic intent in Hu’s entertainments. He was an adherent to Chan Buddhism and, beginning with Come Drink with Me, increasing with A Touch of Zen, and peaking with the Mountain films, his faith was an important part of his narratives. In this respect, the ascetic Tsai Ming-liang is as much an inheritor to Hu’s tradition as the flamboyant Tsui Hark, with one pursuing his spiritual seriousness and the other his physical buoyancy.

– Nick Pinkerton, ArtForum

Visually gorgeous and notably abstract…. The fights, when they occur, are properly balletic, but what’s truly exhilarating is the editing, for which Hu credited himself. The movie, one of his best, was sadly his last commercial hit.

– J. Hoberman, The New York Review of Books

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