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For its first hour and 50-something minutes, Dae-seung Kim’s “Blood Rain” actually works well enough as a period crime/mystery to warrant a recommendation. There are some things about the film that deserves to be seen, including its surprisingly grisly murders and in your face gore. Alas, with about 5 minutes of screentime left, Kim pulls out one of those ambiguous endings that makes absolutely no sense, and reeks of trying too hard to leave the audience guessing because, well, it’s the “in” thing to do, even if doing so threatens to torpedo everything that’s come before it.
“Blood Rain” is set in 1808 Korea, and on a small, isolated island famous for its paper mill, which also happens to be its one and only source of revenue. After crates of paper due to ship out to the mainland, among them the King’s bi-annual tributes, are torched, Imperial detective Won-kyu (Seung-won Cha) is sent to investigate. At the island, Won-kyu is put upon to also solve a series of murders committed by, according to the superstitious locals, the spirit of an angry man wrongly executed years ago. It’s up to the clear-headed Wong-kyu (played by a perpetually dreary-eyed Seung-won Cha) to prove that the crimes are committed by man and not the supernatural.
At almost 2 hours, “Blood Rain” could have used some judicious editing to help the plot move along at a smoother pace, but that’s a redundant argument considering that 9 out of every 10 Korean films you see will undoubtedly scrape the 2-hour mark. “Blood Rain” was clearly meant to be ambiguous when it comes to the identity of the killer (is it man or ghost?), but the script seems to drop the ball about halfway through when Won-kyu ends up in a horse chase with a masked killer. You may know of killer ghosts that wears masks and makes its escape on horseback (and armed with a flint pistol, I might add), but I don’t.
The fact that the script never really makes a convincing argument for a supernatural killer makes the film’s over-the-top, dripping blood ending all that much more ludicrous. The murder mystery itself takes up most of “Blood Rain’s” time, and although not entirely uninteresting, it is rather mundane. Regarding the killer’s true identity, the filmmakers did manage to hide it well, helped by the fact that there’s not that many clues left for the audience to find, so when all is revealed, the audience finally gets to see scenes we didn’t see before, as well as scenes we previously saw, but not to their conclusion. Although it’s understood that the film is slowly unraveling the mystery through Won-kyu’s eyes, there’s something to be said about giving the audience a chance at solving the film’s puzzle.
Although not a horror movie, “Blood Rain” does have some pretty convincing (and in some cases, quite gratuitous) bloodletting. The murders are exceptionally well staged, and if nothing else, “Blood Rain” can boast great practical gore effects in addition to high production values. As our hero, Seung-won Cha could probably use a little more personality. The character as written and played is too subdued and internal, and the film lacks energy because of it. At one point, Won-kyu discovers a dark family secret, and his reaction is supposed to convey great pain. I say “suppose” because, frankly, his “I’m in great pain” look didn’t seem all that distinguishable from all his other looks.
For the most part “Blood Rain” seems to take its time getting to the point, a fact made especially noticeable because the murder investigation is too routine and by the numbers. I had expected more supernatural elements, but what little we do get are easily dismissed as island superstition. Also, the female shaman’s intermittent appearances, where she injects gobblygook New Age junk into the film, doesn’t help to keep the audience guessing if the film is of supernatural origin or not. Frankly speaking, as long as you don’t expect “Blood Rain” to mix its superstition content with its logical content with any great ability, you’ll be fine.
“Blood Rain’s” period setting certainly lends it something extra, which is a good thing because the film oftentimes feels like a standard police procedural. The historical context of the film, not just involving what seems to be wholesale ethnic cleansing of Catholics in Korea’s past, but the film’s attack on social classes, are of more interest. Although the clashing of classes is a common theme in many Korean films, both set in contemporary times and period pieces, the dark side of Korea in regards to its ignorant and bloodthirsty reaction to Catholicism is intriguing stuff.
Alas, in all other areas, “Blood Rain” comes up a bit short. There’s not a whole lot of action, and the investigation mostly breaks down into beating a suspect until he confesses or Won-kyu coming up with answers out of the blue. And then there’s that ending. There is nothing to warrant such a silly ending. If the filmmakers wanted to close things out with a display of faith, they could have at least tried harder to convince us the film could very well be of supernatural origin. If anything, the film seems to be declaring itself as anything but a supernatural mystery, which makes the left field ending all the more perplexing.
Dae-seung Kim (director) / Seong-jae Kim, Won-jae Lee (screenplay)
CAST: Seung-won Cha …. Won-kyu
Ji-na Choi …. Man-shin
Jong-won Choi ….
Ho-jin Jeon ….
Seong Ji …. Doo-ho
Hyeon-kyeong Oh … Kim Chi-sung
Yong-woo Park …. Kim In-kwon