The year is 1808, and the isolated, foggy island of Donghwa is experiencing great prosperity due to its successful, one-of-a-kind paper mill. Most islands of this nature are poor, but thanks to the mill, Donghwa is home to every economic class. The inhabitants are heavily religious (as well as a bit superstitious), and during a shamanistic ritual, the head shaman is apparently possessed by a spirit, shouting that a blood rain is on the horizon. The entire island is instantly gripped with fear: the voice in which the shaman relayed the message sounded eerily like that of a man named Kang, who along with his entire family was put to death over a series of five days after being accused of practicing Catholicism, something that was at the time obviously punishable by death. Their fears are heightened when a boat filled with the island’s best paper, which was about to be offered to the government, mysteriously catches on fire immediately following the possession of the shaman. The next day when a man is found dead, impaled on a spike in a fashion that's reminiscent of how one of Kang's family members were killed, the villagers are certain: Kang is back for blood.
Inspectors are quickly brought to the island to investigate the boat arson, and finding a dead body makes the proceedings all the more interesting. Special investigator Wong Gyu, who is leading the case, quickly begins to unravel a plot that’s filled with false accusations, political intrigue, and vengeance. Even though he thoroughly dismisses any claims that anything supernatural is to blame, the evidence starts to mount that either someone close to Kang is extracting revenge against the men that wrongly accused him of being a traitor, or the ghost of Kang is indeed back to avenge his death.
What really sets Blood Rain apart from other mystery/thrillers, South Korean or otherwise, is the decision to base the film in a historical setting. As wonderfully thought-out and tightly-woven as the script is, I have to wonder if it would have been nearly as engaging had it been set in modern times, as with a few tweaks here and there it probably could have been. Having Blood Rain take place in the beginning of the 19th century gives it a unique angle from the get-go, which if it had just been another thriller set in the modern age it wouldn’t have had. Once it gets its claws in you due to this original aspect, you’re hooked for good as the mystery is amazingly plotted. It’s clear there was a huge attention to detail given by all involved to make sure every thread of plot, regardless of how insignificant, was tied up and integral to the overall story.
This does make for a film that demands your undivided attention if you expect to not become befuddled mid-film, but you should already know it’s smart to be on your toes while watching any film in this genre. I’m oddly perplexed at the negative reviews the film has received by many critics, claiming it makes no sense and that the final act comes out of left field; you could sort of say the event that happens during the climax that gives Blood Rain its name rebels against the stance that what’s going on isn’t supernatural and is only due to superstition, but have we forgotten so quickly that the film opens with the shaman speaking in the voice of the murdered Kang? Certainly there was some sort of ghostly presence on the island, regardless of whether it had a hand in the slayings or not. The film oozes spirituality from the onset, whether it be from the shamans, the strong aversions to changing your religion and the wrath that would be wrought on those that chose to, or the overwhelming fear of the entire population on the island knowing full well they condemned an innocent man to death and his revenge may be imminent. Throughout the runtime there are always hints that something otherworldly may be at play, so just because it only really comes to fruition at the end (and then not even totally) doesn’t mean it came out of “left field’. No, the events for the climax were set into motion much earlier in the film.
Blood Rain wouldn’t be nearly as effective if not for the amazing set and costume design which instantly transports you back to 1808, leaving no doubt that what you’re watching is indeed taking place 200 years ago. If Blood Rain had been made in Hollywood, it would have been a no-brainer as a nominee and favorite to win some awards, as proven by taking home both the best costume and set design awards at South Korea’s version of the Oscars, The Grand Bell Awards. The film has atmosphere in spades, but not due to any directorial flash; it's again thanks to the expertly crafted past we’ve travelled back in time to, as well as the isolation of being trapped on an island. Director Dae-seung Kim doesn’t exactly use any tricks to evoke mood, choosing rather to direct in a very methodical, restrained manner, knowing full well that the world he’s created can do the talking for him. Acting is all top-notch, and the score will be instantly recognizable to many cinephiles, as Sergei Rachmaninoff’s "Piano Concerto No. 2", most recently used in Spider-Man 3 among many others in the history of film, is tapped heavily throughout Blood Rain. It sounds a bit off-putting at first, as our mind has been wired to associate it with more modern films thanks to its heavy usage, but as things move along it settles in nicely.
Blood Rain is a surprisingly well-done, challenging film that thanks to the decision to make it a period piece shines like a bright-light, screaming out to be noticed among the dense array of South Korean thrillers. If you’re in the mood for a smart, demanding mystery that will get the gears in your head turning, look no further.
Pathfinder Home Entertainment presents Blood Rain in a nice 2.35:1 anamorphic print. Flesh tones look nice and natural, as does the scenery, but detail is a bit lacking, with some of the textures looking muddy at times. This was also the case with the R3 Korean release, so this may very well be the best the film will ever look. The encode is also unfortunately interlaced. Audio is only available in a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix, which is a weird choice since every other release out there has 5.1 in both DD and DTS. What we are given though is a fine mix, with clear dialogue and nice bass levels. English subtitles are non-removable, and there are only a handful of notable problems with them. Extras are light, with only trailers for this and other Pathfinder releases. Still, the quality of the film alone makes this worth checking out.
Please feel free to discuss "Blood Rain" here, in our forums!