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
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
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.