Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Rainy Daze

I Come With The Rain(2009) Directed By Tran Anh Hung
Maybe I'm just crazy but there was something kinda awesome about this psychedelic tinged Michael Mann story in Hong Kong, where even Josh Hartnett looks like a badass, although all he has to do is stand around looking melancholy at HK skyline while Radiohead's soundtrack chews the scenery for him. But even Urkle would look badass under said conditions. As Anh Hung Tran's big western crossover film "I Come With The Rain"(his first completely in English) he self consciously tries to combine everything the west loves most; detectives, messiahs, and serial killers.It's as if he started with these three elements in mind and decided to try to make a movie out of it, whatever the costs.Hartnet is a burned out Los Angeles ex-cop who quit the force after a particularly psychologically debilitating showdown with a serial killer named Hasford (played by Atom Egoyan favorite Elias Koteas) an artist who killed 24 people turning them into nightmarishly surreal flesh sculptures. He is called by the head of "the worlds largest pharmaceutical company" to track down his wayward son who went missing in the Philippines where he had inexplicably started running an orphanage. Hartnett is on the case in the first few minutes but still plagued by nightmares and visions of Hasford wherever he goes. The case takes a turn that leads to Hong Kong where most of the film takes place. The wayward son runs afoul of gangsters (lead by Lee Byung-hun, who played Storm Shadow in G.I. Joe and gives one of the most understated performances in the film) that also have an adversarial connection to Hartnett's contact in Hong Kong a friend and fellow police officer (who he shares some buddy-cop movie scenes with).Though it seems to recall "Manhunter" especially and a slew of other cop dramas, the plot wanders off as soon as you take your eyes from it. Hartnett does not so much crack the case as descend further and further into his own barely functioning kind of madness, still full of thoughts of Hasford in flashbacks that come without warning (making the narrative hard to piece together at times). The son has become a healer of sorts, and deity to the locale homeless who live on the outskirts of the city. Each time he heals someone he spasms and writhes around, as if having literally absorbed their suffering."Human suffering is the marvel of the universe, is there anything more beautiful on earth?" Hasford says at one point. And indeed suffering seems to be the order of the day. All of the characters, from Hasford who seeks to capture suffering in his "flesh art", to Harnett who suffers because of what he has seen and how it has "contaminated" his worldview, to the gangster who longs to see his girlfriend again and brutally takes his revenge out on everyone to find her, to the girlfriend who suffers heroin withdrawal in the "son's" shanty, where the son suffers seemingly for the sins of the world. This was obviously made for a western audience, French raised Vietnamese director Anh Hung Tran admits drawing from the "mythology of film and the west" to create this strange cocktail of neo-noir and spirituality.Tran erases most of what we would expect as crucial scenes of a detective story, like those of Hartnett doing any real police work, or the "villans" getting his comeuppance, instead opting for a series of flashbacks moving us in and out of real time and ever deeper into metaphorical waters. The images in the film are beautiful and disturbing recalling the gritty poetry of his earlier "Cyclo" with horrors worthy of Tarsem's "The Cell”. The soundtrack is by "Radiohead" who I assume need no introduction. One of the best scenes in his earlier "Cyclo" was set to Radiohead's "Creep", and "I Come With The Rain" lets the band have free range, and includes some of their other classics like "Crawling Up The Walls" and "I Wish I Was Bulletproof", but the real musical centerpiece is from Canada's A Silver Mt. Zion's "The Triumph Of Our Tired Eyes" (my favorite song by the band...how did Tran know?) which plays multiple times and during one extended sequence when we see a crucial flashback into the son’s disappearance. I know some people will say the film is simple idolatry, using identifiable symbols charged with meaning, but meaningless to create a coherent story. I thought so too at first, but by the end I was swept up in the waves of sounds, images, and editing, to an ambiguous conclusion where the suffering of one becomes the suffering of all. By the end the fact that there were more similarities than differences between a burn-out cop, a serial killer, and perhaps God incarnate on earth felt appropriate. Tran achieves this with little dialogue and lots of cinematic finesse. It's use of music and investigation(of sorts) into over-identification, good, evil, and gangsters make it a Siamese twin of similarly misunderstood upon release and strange detective thriller "Manhunter", and I would feel a liar to discount one for the same reasons I enjoy the other.Between this movie, "Bad Lieutenant: Port Of New Orleans" and Takashi Miike's "Detective Story", we have been lucky in the last half of the decade to see a small but inventive return to the most formulaic of stories; the cop drama. Even if "I Come With The Rain" is not as immediately coherent, and certainly not as funny as the other two, it makes its pulpy spiritual core engaging like the first "Bad Lieutenant" or "Love Exposure" without belittling its audience like "Knowing" or "The Book of Eli". It's sad that such an accessible and unique work will not find its way to western audiences sooner, because it would certainly draw a crowd."I Come With The Rain" will not be enjoyed by everyone, and I suspect argued about vehemently, but perhaps that agony of waiting, and in-fighting, will be worth it in the end. Enjoy the suffering everybody.

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