Contributor; Derby, England

It's about suffering, appropriately enough, given for many viewers Tran Anh Hung's I Come With The Rain will be up there as two of the most punishing hours of cinema they're ever likely to sit through. Graced with a relatively high-profile pan-asian cast, the noted Vietnamese arthouse director's first English-language project (after earlier successes with Cyclo and The Scent of Green Papaya) was eagerly awaited for quite some time, then suddenly and unceremoniously glossed over after a disappointing spin on the festival circuit.

Why? On paper, at least, the premise starts out by making some kind of logical sense; Josh Hartnett (yes, really) plays Kline, an American PI dismissed from the force after becoming a little too immersed in the hunt for a notorious serial killer (Elias Koteas). He's contacted out of the blue by a pharmaceutical tycoon whose adopted son Shitao (Kimura Takuya, Love and Honour, 2046) has gone missing while running an orphanage in Mindanao.

Hartnett tracks Shitao to Hong Kong, assisted by Shawn Yue's debonair police officer, where things get progressively stranger - with the runaway living rough and healing the poor and destitute by literally absorbing their pain (manifesting stigmata in the process, in case anyone didn't get the parallels). Cut to Korean gangster Su Dong-Po, newly in town looking to network (Lee Byung-Hun, recycling his villainous leading role in The Good, The Bad, The Weird). When one of his underlings rebels and makes off with Su's lover Lili (Tran Nu Yên-Khê, the director's wife) the chase that follows sees Shitao rescue Lili, with Su and Kline racing to see who can track him down first.

But what sounds vaguely sane on paper ends up spectacularly derailed for a variety of reasons. Cinematic train-wrecks are not necessarily wholly bad; it's arguably better to be a spectacular failure than a flat-out mediocrity. But most people involved in, say, Chen Kaige's misfiring wuxia pian The Promise were either clearly in on the joke or determined to make the most of it, making that film a guilty pleasure at the very least and even something genuinely, quietly moving for all its frantic histrionics.

I Come With the Rain is all messiah, all the time, a rogue's gallery of misfits who just can't stop empathising with the world's pain. There's no room for levity or any sense of dynamics and the narrative stumbles into every imaginable pitfall as a result, from the Asian cast struggling gamely with their English dialogue to the heavy-handed symbolism to the increasing absence of anything approaching logic or believable psychology, whether in the performances or the original script.

Frequently Tran ramps up the emotional intensity to such a staggering degree the film leaps headlong over the shark into a parody of itself, such as the early scene in a backstreet dive somewhere in the Philippines. Hartnett's hangdog miserablism as naked bargirls slowly dance behind him to wistful crooning over the PA is so wildly mishandled it provokes hysterical laughter over the weary empathy it's clearly angling for.

What makes it frustrating is there is clearly some unifying aesthetic at work here, the sense that there was a point to it all somewhere in production. The themes are delivered with all the subtlety of a kick to the head but they do carry an undeniable power all the same.

The violence becomes as comical in places as the inept use of subtext - no matter what the context or motivation, beating someone senseless with their own dog is still going to start some people giggling. At the same time it is frequently quite horrifying. The Giger-esque sculptures the serial killer supposedly crafts out of his victims are far more effective than Koteas' breathily chewing the scenery.

For most viewers, though, following this thread through the full two hours plus is simply going to feel too much like hard work. Tran's assault on the viewer never lets up, whether through Juan Ruiz Sanchia's over-saturated, vacuous cinematography, or the earnest, pleading songs underscoring every other key moment, or the sheer intensity of the violence (far too reminiscent of awful, testosterone-drenched nonsense like Yoichi Sai's Soo) or the over-riding sense these people have barely cracked a smile in their lives.

There will definitely be a small minority for whom this all falls together into the second coming it's pitched as. I Come With the Rain is an undeniably heartfelt film, with a cast and crew clearly desperate to convey some of that passion to the audience. But the effect ends up akin to someone yelling directly into your face from inches away, heedless of how annoying this is as long as you're getting some of the message.

Far too often the results are incoherent where they should have been eloquent, comedic where they should have been heartbreaking and tiresome where they should have been compelling. There are the seeds of something truly special buried deep inside the mess Tran made of I Come With the Rain, and anyone with enough patience and dedication to dig for them may well think the effort was worth it, but most viewers would be advised to stay well away.

I Come with the Rain

  • Tran Anh Hung
  • Tran Anh Hung
  • Josh Hartnett
  • Tran Nu Yên-Khê
  • Byung-hun Lee
  • Takuya Kimura
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Tran Anh HungJosh HartnettTran Nu Yên-KhêByung-hun LeeTakuya KimuraThriller

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