Film Review: I Come with the Rain (2008)
I Come with the… PAIN!!!
by Ender’s Girl
Josh Hartnett, Lee Byung-hun, Kimura Takuya, Shawn Yue, Trần Nữ Yên Khê, Elias Koteas
Written and directed by Tran Anh Hung / Central Films, 2008
In a Nutshell:
Kline, an ex-L.A. cop turned PI, is hired by a reclusive Asian tycoon to track down his missing son Shitao. While on assignment, a fresh lead takes Kline from the mountain hinterlands of the southern Philippines to the backstreets and fringes of Hong Kong, where he seeks the help of Meng Zi, an old acquaintance from his law enforcement days. But the tortuous trail that leads to the elusive Shitao unexpectedly intersects with three other characters: the sadistic crime boss Dong-po, his heroin-addicted girlfriend Lili, and the dead serial killer Hasford, who continues to haunt the already fraying Kline through dreams of his gruesome murders.
(SpoilLert: There Will Be Blood!!!)
They say that pain is beauty, and beauty pain… or something like that. Such is the central thesis of French-Vietnamese auteur Tran Anh Hung’s latest art house oeuvre, the psychological thriller I Come with the Rain. This dualism between pain and beauty is not lost on the viewer as the first scene unfolds: a flashback showing then detective Kline’s (Josh Hartnett) final face-off with Hasford (Elias Koteas), the serial killer and self-styled artist he has overzealously hunted (and studied) for 27 months. Surrounded by Hasford’s grotesque installation sculptures — made even more grotesque by the fact that he uses, um, actual body parts of his victims, eew — Kline gets bludgeoned, then bitten by a lugubrious Hasford, who views his macabre “masterpieces” as objects of artistic — and even spiritual — fervor.
Suffering as a religious experience, creating beauty from butchery, the agony and the ecstasy of living in this world — these are the main themes that I Come with the Rain gorges on, then later spews up on the viewer with as much subtlety and finesse as the hammer blows that the crime boss Dong-po (Lee Byung-hun) rains on a henchman who has failed him at one point in the story. The path that this film takes you on is a veritable via dolorosa where every turn, every corner is an exercise in the glorification of Pain in all its incarnations — the pain of dismembering victims for a psycho-artist’s portfolio, the pain of drug addiction and withdrawal, the pain of manifesting spontaneous lacerations and other stigmata while absorbing the suffering of others, the pain of a mind still tormented by grisly memories of the past. But as a viewer you wonder which is a more excruciating experience: the traumatic throes the main characters undergo, or having to sit through all 115 minutes while battling apathy and insensibility. Hasford tells Kline at the start of the story: “Jesus is in agony… till the end of the world.” Um, I beg to disagree. It’s the viewer who’s in mind-numbing agony until the end of this film — and how! (Lol)
Tran Anh Hung’s obsession with pain seems matched only by his overindulgence in iconoclasm, but the subversive messianic parallelisms in ICWTR are as ham-fisted as they are gratuitous. And not to mention, oh-so-stupendously unoriginal. *roll eyes* Shitao (Kimura Takuya) is obviously some kind of Christ figure, with a matching profile to boot: invisible but all-powerful father (check!), ability to heal the sick and the dying (check!), itinerant lifestyle (check!), empathy with the suffering of society’s lepers (check!), and self-resurrecting powers (check!). But the messiah analogy fails at the most basal level because in Christian theology, there’s a real purpose behind the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, being the crux (pun intended) of a greater redemption plan for humanity. In ICWTR, the pain that Shitao is subjected to is so pointless, so unavailing, ringing hollow from the lack of any compelling purpose behind it. We never even get to know WHO Shitao is as a person: Why is he alienated from his father? How did he acquire his empathetic powers? Why did he choose to live among the rural poor in Mindanao, then later among the urban derelicts in Hong Kong? And most importantly, how does his (self-perceived) messianic calling change him in the end? You never know because Shitao isn’t a real person, he’s just another trope in the film.
You can’t even say that the suffering fixation serves to advance plot and character development, because it doesn’t. There isn’t a single thing about this film that feels organic — which is ironic considering you can’t get any more primal and stripped-down than pain and blood and masticated flesh. The human suffering bombarding the viewer in almost every scene just feels put-on, and succeeds only in asphyxiating rather than accentuating the narrative flow. It’s as if Tran (as both writer and director), in his eagerness to inject stylized images of anguish through provocative scene rendering and overwrought acting, somehow lost sight of the cardinal purpose of any good film, which is to tell an engaging and coherent story — and ICWTR fails to tell even a decent one. Although the main narrative thread — Kline tracks down Shitao with Meng Zi’s help — is easy enough to follow, it’s the dots in-between that fail to connect.
Early in the film, Kline mulls over Shitao’s whereabouts in a strip joint in Mindanao, but the scene serves no real purpose except to deliver some gratuitous… nudity, oh wow! (But — nudie shots are the sine qua non of art films!!! But — of course! What a cultural philistine I am!!! Doh.) It’s actually funny how a flea-bitten hole in the wall in some remote mountain hamlet in Mindanao could afford not six, not seven, but eight nubile dancing girls feeling each other up, oh wow! And I thought places like these featured only one sad, aging stripper who also doubled as the cashier or something. Doh!
When the trail goes cold in Mindanao, Kline receives a tip from Shitao’s dad that his son just might be in Hong Kong because someone anonymously left flowers at the grave of the billionaire’s parents. And since it wasn’t Daddy Dearest or his sister who left the flowers, it obviously had to be Shitao, right? Right? *sigh* And when Kline enlists the help of his former colleague Meng Zi (Shawn Yue) of the Hong Kong police force, why doesn’t he accost Shitao upon seeing him at the precinct? The camera belabors the shot of Kline getting a good look at Shitao while clutching a bunch of his photos, but for some reason Kline never bothers to verify the identity of the disheveled man in the yellow raincoat — which is funny given the 39.7 minutes later in the film, showing Kline combing the back alleys of Hong Kong searching futilely for his quarry, lol. And it isn’t even clear what Shitao was doing at the police station to begin with. Was he apprehended for vagrancy? Or did he turn himself in? And if so, for what reason? *sigh*
Josh Hartnett has the most scenes in this movie, and lends his role all the squinty-eyed, gravelly-voiced, ruggedly sexy goodness he can summon. Kline is the most developed character in the film, but even then you soon feel desensitized to all that twisting and turning and thrashing he does in his bed (and bedroom/living room/kitchen floor) while hallucinating over the dead Hasford. You can see how the Hasford case is triggering Kline’s Asian Meltdown while in the middle of his new one, but you… don’t really care about him or what he’s going through. There’s nothing about the character that makes you want to. Same goes for Shawn Yue, who was marvelous in the Infernal Affairs trilogy, but whose obvious difficulty with the cadences of English makes it hard for both him and the viewer to connect emotionally to the character, even when Meng Zi later survives an underworld attempt on his life that takes him off the Shitao/Dong-po case. (And that scene involving his lady friend and a 9-mm bullet was just so WTF-random, lol).
As Shitao, Kimura Takuya is given an insubstantial role to begin with, a character requiring no more from the actor than the constant writhing and whimpering and widening of his eyes while absorbing the pain of others. And that’s exactly what Kimura brings to the table — no more, no less. He fails to transcend the limitations of his character — unlike Lee Byung-hun, who brings an extra dimension of ruthless potency to an otherwise thinly written role. Dong-po the mobster is nowhere a fraction of a fraction as meaty as the complex men that Lee Byung-hun has portrayed in — say, the films Joint Security Area (2000), Bungee Jumping of Their Own (2001) and A Bittersweet Life (2005), or even the 2001 drama Beautiful Days, but at least the actor makes the Dong-po role his own. Which is too bad, because you can just feel Lee Byung-hun straining at the leash to bring multi-dimensionality to a one-note character. Still, at times I wished I were sitting through 2008’s The Good, the Bad, the Weird instead, where Lee Byung-hun’s guyliner-wearing gunslinger character, though not as substantial as his other roles, was at least wickedly sexy and fiendishly fun to watch.
We don’t know much about Dong-po except that he’s this brutally possessive monster whose hunt for his girlfriend Lili (who, on the night of her abduction, ends up in Shitao’s Wayside Rehab for Heroin Addicts) causes Dong-po to cross paths — and swords, er guns — with Kline and Meng Zi. The only scenes from the entire movie that really made an impression on me were the ones involving Dong-po (big surprise, duh), particularly the scene where his disgruntled underling seizes Lili (Trần Nữ Yên Khê) in her red velvety boudoir. Transfixed by the gun his renegade henchman is pointing at Lili’s skull, Lee Byung-hun’s face registers stark terror and indecision, and at this point you believe his character loves Lili beyond anything else in the world. Towards the end of the movie, Lili comes home from Shitao’s Hobo Rehab and Dong-po finds her out on the balcony. At first he thinks she’s just a vision created by his stressed-out mind, but when the realization kicks in that it’s really her in the flesh, the look on his face as he crosses the room to yank her into a fierce embrace — wow. (But, um… it’s kind of funny that the first thing Lilli does upon coming home is to preen on Dong-po’s balcony — without so much as a honey-I’m-baaaack holler. You’d think that after leaving Shitao she’d call Dong-po from the nearest phone booth and order a ride home ASAP, lol.)
And Lili, Lili, oh Lili. Tran Anh Hung’s Muse (and oh yeah, his wife, too) mugs for the camera with the almost comical desperation of a washed-up starlet. She definitely wins the award for Hammiest Writher, standing out in a cast that loves to, um, writhe. Literally all of Lili’s scenes show her in diaphanous negligees, the gossamer folds so artfully parted to reveal her long, tanned limbs and… undies, oh wow. It boggles the mind how Trần Nữ Yên Khê’s overdone style could be condoned by the director… oh that’s right, I keep forgetting she’s his wife. Doh! And for all the time that Lili spends in Shitao’s Shack of Empathy, you’re never convinced that she forms a strong enough attachment to this weird, grubby (not to mention inarticulate) little vagrant who magically makes all her boo-boos (and drug dependence) go away. I mean, ALL he ever does is douse her with cold water and then wrestle her to the mattress while they both moan piteously (she from the withdrawal, he from imbibing her pain), and all she ever does is throw hissy fits while showing him her undies, and all they ever do together is engage in bizarre spooning on his soiled mattress.
So when the newly detoxified Lili goes back to Dong-po’s much, much cleaner digs, you definitely get why she’d do that. But to go back to Shitao? There was never any believable bond between them, enough to make her ditch that scary gangsta boyfriend and (literally) shack up with Shitao the Hobo Man. WHY do it, Lili? And when she finds him doing his Thang again — you know, healing all of Hong Kong’s sick and dying vagrants who have suddenly converged outside his hovel — so now she’s suddenly in love with him and tries to make his boo-boos go away? Great! And by golly, why Shitao and Lili stay put in their love nest instead of skipping town, is beyooooond me. It ain’t like they disappeared into the wilds of Darkest Africa, never to be seen again. Shitao’s shack was just a few kilometers from the city proper, and a stone’s throw from the effin’ road, for Pete’s sake. You know — the same road where Lili parked her swanky sports car? So much for going into hiding and all that. So when the two lovebirds wake up one morning to the cold barrel of Dong-po’s gun, all you can do is roll your eyes and say, “Oh great. They were just begging for it.”
The whole Dong-po-makes-Shitao-eat-sh*t scene is just a pretext for the movie’s Final Shocking Moment, which is — tadaa! — the crucifixion of Shitao. Of course. He already got himself resurrected in some cave in Mindanao, so might as well nail him to a wooden plank for the complete Jesus experience, right? I watched this movie with my best friend, and we were laughing the whole time Kimura delivered his lines in this scene — which happened to contain 95% of his dialogue in the entire film. When Shitao tells Dong-po in his hut, “Don’t be afraid of me… Don’t be brinded by fear…” hahahahaha that SO cracked us up! Then later, when a lackey (literally) nails home Dong-po’s parting lesson (not knowing the tramp is… um, like, immortal and stuff?), Shitao goes, “Don’t hurt me anymore… I beg of you… I’m frightened!” And we could not stop laughing at how much Kimura sounded like — Gollum! LMAO!!!
(Although in fairness to Kimura, the all-English dialogue was a major pitfall of the film, not to mention a Really Bad Idea. Of the Asian actors, only Lee Byung-hun spoke in perfect, if mildly accented English. The rest of the cast clearly struggled with their lines, and it was obvious they had only memorized without fully comprehending their dialogue. Even the scenes where it would’ve been more believable to converse in Cantonese (like those scenes involving Hong Kong residents) — Tran just had to insist they deliver their lines in labored English. So it wasn’t just Kimura who sounded funny.)
I never would’ve watched ICWTR if not for Kimura, but after seeing the film I found myself really wishing he had never taken on this project, despite the gloss of Tran’s indie-auteur rep, despite the international cast, despite the “neo-noir” tag (whatever that means) attached to the film. You’d be willing to forgive this overblown, self-important mess if it were something a 20-year-old film major submitted to his local village film fest, but given Tran’s experience and standing in the indie circuit, the weak narrative of ICWTR, awash with metaphors and histrionics, is simply indefensible. It doesn’t even have the same entertainment value as, say, some mindless slasher flick that doesn’t put on any airs about the murder and mayhem it peddles. The violence in ICWTR tries to be artsy… and it’s artsy all right: artsy tedium. (Although come to think of it, the cinematography isn’t even the lush visual feast I was expecting. The shots are passably appealing, but nothing special.)
And now for the question of greatest consequence: Who comes with the rain? Hahaha. My money’s on the perpetually-raised-from-the-dead Shitao (the rain metaphor is often used as a cleansing, renewing force in literature and film). But you’ll be kept guessing because Tran Anh Hung never makes it clear in his film. Besides, the actual rain only comes in one scene, when a newly resurrected Shitao crawls out of his cave, maggots, centipedes, self-healed gunshot wounds and whatnot adorning his body. It’s ironic that for a film drowning in visual symbolism, it’s this title image — the rain — that we see far too little of. And trust me, halfway through this movie you’ll find yourself yearning for the rain — not a light shower, but a frickin’ downpour — to wash away the senseless gore, the stilted English dialogue and dramatic tableaux, and the one-too-many scenes of gratuitous writhing that supersaturate this piece of filmmaking. I Come with the Rain is really grindhouse fare riding on art house pretensions, and you’re never quite sure if it’s a movie suffused with a pointlessness so torturous, or a torturous experience so… pointless. But by the time the credits start rolling, you realize you’re way, way, way past caring, and only too glad to be put out of your misery.
Artistic & technical merit: D
Entertainment value: F
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