A Good Rain Knows -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

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BUSAN, South Korea -- Spring rain, bamboo groves, Chinese poetry and stinky noodles are the piquant ingredients that season a pair of lovers' surprise reunion in "A Good Rain Knows." Hur Jin-ho's latest film set in Sichuan marks the first time he has shot outside Korea. This is probably his most conventional film to date, but he hasn't sold out or disappointed fans. Mostly, it is bashfully romantic and laced with broad humor, but at critical moments, Hur evokes love with a touch as soft and sure as a heartbeat, and coaxes affecting performances from mainland Chinese actress Gao Yuanyuan and Korean heartthrob Jung Woo-sung.

The Korean-Chinese co-production has sold to Japan and Chinese speaking territories. Korean theatrical release kicked off last week collecting about $150,000. The film can expect decent niche distribution in Europe.

Korean executive Park Dong-ho (Jung) goes to Sichuan for a business meeting. While strolling through a park dedicated to Tang Dynasty poet Du Fu, he runs into college alumna May (Gao). They enjoy a few days together sharing poetry and local food in spite of the hilarious interceptions of his gooseberry colleague Nam.

The lovers' courtship is conducted in the slow, slow, quick rhythm of a social dance. They reminisce, test the waters, flirt, lunge into passionate expression, and hold back again. Toward the end, one finds out May has her reasons for blowing hot and cold towards Park's advances.

Hur has the ability to make superstars look as natural as ordinary people onscreen. He applies this to location shooting, retaining the real crowds and chaotic noises. The scene where Park and May join a street dance reflects his spontaneity, while a shot of a site ravished by the Wenchuan earthquake puts their little amorous interlude in perspective.

Hur is obviously as enchanted with the beautifully understated Gao as Park is with May. In Hur's past works, the angle always tilts towards his invariably precious and indecisive male protagonists. "A Good Rain" also introduces the chaos and excitement of Sichuan through Park's newcomer's eyes, but as soon as May appears, focus shifts to her. May conceals an emotional undercurrent that goes deeper than the impromptu feelings rekindled by Park, and it is her fragility and strength in overcoming much greater trauma (symbolized by her forgetting, and relearning how to ride a bike) that makes this more than just a love story or scenic impressions of Sichuan.

Camera movements also reflect their mood swings by following a cadenced pattern of intensely emotional close-ups, serene long shots of natural backdrops, punctuated with startling movement, like the exhilarating continuous take of May running breathlessly towards Park at the airport and a traffic incident filmed with effects of an earthquake. Hur's characteristically limpid lighting is especially noticeable in capturing outdoor locations glistening with the drizzle of rain.

Venue: Asia Film Market Screening
Sales: Pancinema
Production: Pancinema, Zonbo Media, Ho Films, Taurus Films
Cast: Jung Woo-sung, Gao Yuanyuan
Director-screenwriter: Hur Jin-ho
Screenwriter: Lee Han-eol
Producers: Myungsun Pack, Chen Wei Ming, Hur Jin-ho, Yim Yeon-hak
Executive producers: Myungsun Pack, Chen Wei Ming, Lee Kang-bok
Director of photography: Kim Byung-seo
Art director: Lv Dong
Music: Lee Jae-jin
Editor: Choi Jai-keun
No rating, 102 minutes