Friday, October 23, 2009

Not Exactly an Island Paradise: Blood Rain

Blood Rain
Directed by Kim Dae-seung
Pathfinder Home Entertainment

There is an ill wind blowing on Donghwa island. It is tax time for the residents. The Joseon Dynasty called it tribute, but same difference. Technically, the owner of the island’s paper-mill makes the payments, but as always, the workers will share the pain. To make matters worse, either a ghost or a serial killer is extracting revenge on the islanders for the sins committed against the former mill owner. It turns out to be quite a trying assignment for a young court investigator in Kim Dae-seung’s Blood Rain (trailer here), now available on DVD from Pathfinder Home Entertainment, who has become the leading distributor of Korean cinema in recent months.

Life stinks on Donghwa—literally. An evil malaise has turned their water fetid. Of course, things are even harder for underground Roman Catholics. Though converts are harshly dealt with as a matter of course, the justice meted out on the unfortunate Commissioner Kang was unusually harsh and suspiciously swift. Though alleged to be a secret Catholic, the ill-fated mill-owner actually might have been an innocent victim of his own kindness, lending at generously low interest rates to many islanders. With his death, all debts were erased.

Lee Won-gyu, an analytical government inspector with severe father issues, arrived on Donghwa expecting to conduct a relatively routine arson investigation, but found a community plagued with guilt, terrorized by someone or something replicating the methods used to execute Kang and his family. Played with admirable restraint by Cha Seung-won, Lee Won-gyu is a refreshingly down-to-business style of protagonist. Likewise, the ensemble cast is reasonably sound, with a particularly memorable supporting turn coming from Choi Ji-na as Man-shin, the village shaman.

Despite the gruesome nature of the murders, by the standards of many Korean genre films, Rain is really not that graphic. However, it might upset PETA extremists, since several chickens apparently made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of the film. Be that as it may, Rain is an intriguing portrayal of early nineteenth century forensic science at work. Art director Min Eon-Ok’s exotic locales and deadly Rube Goldberg-like set pieces convincingly immerses the viewer in Rain’s hothouse period setting. Rarely seen in film, the frank depiction of the subjugation of Roman Catholics also adds a fascinating wrinkle to the film.

If not the most intricate screen mystery, Rain effectively contrasts superstition and scientific method, against a finely crafted historical backdrop. It is solidly entertaining DVD discovery.