I Come With the Rain -- Film Review

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Bottom Line: Visually stunning thriller whose pictures make you forget its thin plot.

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BUSAN, South Korea -- A vivid opening segment of a vicious beating sets the tone for this noirish thriller about a traumatized ex-cop on a hunt for the missing son of a powerful pharmaceutical mogul. Jumping from Los Angeles to the Philippines and Hong Kong, "I Come With the Rain" is a moody, supremely stylistic exercise in sweaty underworld revenge that could have easily teetered over into Orientalism.

It never does, thanks largely to director Tran Ahn Hung's restraint (from heavy exoticizing) and focus on bloody misery and the search for redemption and salvation.

An all star international cast should guarantee "Rain" broad festival play, particularly when combined with Tran's directorial pedigree; his earlier films include the Camera d'Or winner "The Scent of Green Papaya" and the Golden Lion-winning "Cyclo."

There's also a good chance for art house and limited release in urban markets in all corners of the globe.

Two years after killing a gruesome serial murderer in the line of duty, Kline (Josh Hartnett) has given up the police force and works as a private detective. Agreeing to find Shitao (Japanese TV idol Kimura Takuya) in part because of the fat expense account that comes with the gig, he heads off to Asia.

His search for Shitao forces him to cross paths with gangster Su Dongpo (Korean star Lee Byung-hun), who is also looking for Shitao after the latter absconds with his wife Lili (Tran Nu Yen Khe), albeit through much more vicious means. That the murderous Su may be the most well adjusted character in the film is a good indicator as to how morally suspect everyone is, even though his final act of revenge is a doozy.

There is a lurid aspect to "Rain," and Tran -- known for his general classiness -- proves that he's able to wallow in human depravity with the best of them. The aesthetically lush brutal- and biblical-violence reminiscent of "Oldboy" is partnered with some garish, outre images: 9mm bullets aren't traditionally included in foreplay, vagrants aren't normally beaten to death with freshly-shot dogs, shooting victims rarely come back from beyond the grave as Christ-like healers. All these are as languidly shot (in properly lit HD) as the rest of the film.

"Rain" is a textbook example of a film that will live or die on the strength of its cast. As a cop that identified a little too strongly with his quarry, Hartnett is with Kimura in being cast against type. He acquits himself reasonably well, however Kimura ("2046") is at his best when doing the rascally heroic thing on television.

When he tries to act, as he does here, it can backfire on him, but he does manage a quiet intensity as the proverbial lamb trying to work in an urban jungle. Lee is slickly nasty in a less nuanced hybrid of his performances in "A Bittersweet Life" and "The Good, the Bad, the Weird."

Though nearly two hours long, "Rain" never really drags, and Tran somehow manages to keep his religious imagery from dipping into histrionic. It may not be the subtlest of films from 2009, but it's certainly one of the most aggressively ambient.

Pusan International Film Festival -- Gala Presentation

Sales: TF1 International
Production companies: Central Films, Morena Films
Cast: Josh Hartnett, Lee Byung-hun, Kimura Takuya, Tran Nu Yen Khe, Shawn Yue, Elias Koteas
Director: Tran Ahn Hung
Screenwriter: Tran Ahn Hung
Executive producer: Simon Fawcett, Alvaro Longoria, Julie Lebrocquy
Producer: Fernando Sulichin, Jean Cazes, Jean-Pierre Marois
Director of photography: Juan Ruiz-Anchia
Production designer: Benoit Barouh
Music: Gustavo Santaolalla
Costume designer: Judy Shrewsbury
Editor: Mario Battistel
No rating, 116 minutes

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