“Season of Good Rain” (aka “A Good Rain Knows”) is a Chinese Korean production that was originally to have been part of the omnibus “Chengdu, I Love You”, but which was expanded into a full length feature in its own right with director Hur Jin Ho at the reins. The film is set in China’s picturesque Chengdu, and is unsurprisingly a cross cultural affair which revolves around two characters gently trying to rekindle their past love. As with his other works, such as “Happiness” and “One Fine Spring Day”, Hur takes this simple premise, and plays it not so much as straight romance, but as a searching exploration of the bonds which form between men and women, and how life and loss can often get in the way of love.
Jung Woo Sung (recently in Kim Ji Woon’s “The Good, The Bad, The Weird”) stars as architect Dong Ha, who travels to Chengdu to oversee a Sichuan earthquake rebuilding project. While visiting one of the city’s parks dedicated to the poet Du Fu, he runs into Chinese tour guide May (Gao Yuanyuan, excellent in “City of Life and Death”), a beautiful young woman who he knew from their college days. With their relationship and feelings never having been resolved, the two are drawn to each other once again as they explore their shared pasts and memories.
“Season of Good Rain” is an absolutely gorgeous film, that makes the very most of the lovely Chengdu scenery. Director Hur works in plenty of local colour, food, scenery, parks, bamboo and even pandas, though in an unobtrusive manner that never makes the film feel tool much like cinematic tourism. Indeed, its visuals are frequent poetic, finding numerous moments of quiet beauty which neatly accentuate its Du Fu theme and inclusion of quotes from his works. This gives the film a real sense of place, and since largely seen from the perspective of Dong Ha as a visitor, it also has a winning air of wonder and romantic longing. Of course, rain plays a large part, though again in a subtle manner which helps to underline its themes rather than drowning them.
The plot itself and the relationship between Dong Ha and May plays out in disarming and realistic fashion, and the film basically consists of a series of conversations between the two involving differing memories, things forgotten and hints at stirring emotions and past secrets. The film is initially ambiguous, particularly with regards to May, not making it obvious who is remembering things correctly, and indeed whether or not the two were a couple or merely friends. Their meetings are unforced and naturalistic, and do lead them into some frank and painful dialogues, which makes their bond and budding romance wholly convincing as it emerges. While Hur does drop in a twist later on in the proceedings, which most viewers will probably have seen coming for some time, the film sticks to wistful realism rather than melodrama, right the way through to its satisfying conclusion. Both Jung Woo Sung and Gao Yuanyuan turn in superb performances that perfectly capture their characters obvious attraction to each other, as well as their internal turmoil, and there is an instant chemistry which makes their courtship delightfully engaging.
The film’s approach to languages is similarly naturalistic, switching constantly between Korean, Chinese and English, something which the cast all handle very well. Most of the dialogue between the leads is in English, resulting in some rather awkward conversations, though the halting nature of their communication reflects their relationship, and again makes it all the more believable. Whilst the film does have a light touch in places and a few instances of culture clash humour, it is for the most part played straight, and is well structured for tension to develop as their relationship progresses, without too much of an idea whether they are fated to end up together. Given its use of Du Fu’s poetry and the tragedy of the Sichuan earthquake hovering in the background, the film is often sad and melancholy, though Hur never wallows in grief, choosing to focus instead on healing and moving through the pain of the past to a more hopeful future.
“Season of Good Rain” is easily one of the best romantic films to come out of either China or Korea for some time, and makes for deeply moving and humanistic viewing. Hur’s direction is grounded and gorgeous, and thanks to the affecting turns of the two leads, the film should be enjoyed even by those who normally avoid such fare.
Jin-ho Hur (director) / Han-yeol Lee, Jin-ho Hur (screenplay)
CAST: Woo-sung Jung … Dong Ha
Yuanyuan Gao … May
Sang-ho Kim … President Ji
Shaohua Ma … Director Ma