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March 08, 2012

Blood Rain

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Hyeolui Nu
Kim Dae-seung - 2005
Pathfinder Home Entertainment Region 1 DVD

What sets Blood Rain immediately apart from other South Korean thrillers is that it is set in 1808. In and of itself, the film is of interest simply because it is not the usual era associated with detective stories. Part of the work of Lee Won-Kyu is simply to provide scientific explanations to a series of mysterious and violent deaths attributed to a vengeful ghost. In his investigations, Lee uncovers family secrets that tie everyone on the island together in one form or another, with guilt shared by an entire community.

Even though Lee Won-Kyu is modern in his investigations of crime, feudal attitudes still dominate the thinking of most people. What Blood Rain looks at is how rules regarding class, culture and religion caused escalations of tragedy in this remote location. Punishment, usually death, is meted out for being Catholic or even being accused of being Catholic. Aside from the possession of guns, western culture is viewed as unwanted and a possible act of treason. Arcane rules apply to those who are considered part of the aristocracy. A so-called commoner with great wealth is still a commoner.

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The mystery kicks off with a female shaman seemingly possessed by the spirit of a murdered man. At the same time, a fire spontaneously erupts on a boat stocked with paper. The paper is the special product produced on the island, and the stock in question was intended for trade with China. The political intrigues that cause an emissary and Lee to come from the mainland prove to hide more personal vendettas. As in any reasonably good mystery, nothing is quite what it seems. Even the shaman, who holds a certain amount of influence regarding spiritual beliefs on the island, is revealed to be Lee's most reliable ally.

Kim Dae-seung's reliance on cross cutting between past and present sometimes makes the film difficult to follow in some scenes. Also problematic are some of the cultural aspects, although one can see parallels between Joseon era Korea and Shogunate Japan. While not overly graphic, the onscreen deaths are violent, although I suspect more people would be upset by the decapitation of several live chickens. Blood Rain has been cited for its costume and production design. The costumes especially are notable for clearly signifying class and rankings. Remarkable also is the paper mill, showing industry in early 19th Century Korea.

Kim Dae-seung began his filmmaking career as an assistant to Im Kwok-taek. As Im's most famous films were about artists and Korean culture, this feeling would informs Kim's towards the island inhabitants, who are first seen in community celebration. One of the major characters is a young artist who hopes that his ability at portraiture would enable him to overcome the stigma of his humble origins. While peripheral to the main narrative, the moments devoted to art and the artist allow some visual beauty into an otherwise grim story.

There's a blogathon devoted to Korean cinema this week with the main links over at CineAwsome and New Korean Cinema.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 8, 2012 08:48 AM