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Dong Ha (Woo-sung Jung) is a South Korean architect on business in China’s ancient city of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in the southwest. While visiting a city park dedicated to the poet Du Fu, he surprisingly stumbles upon a tour guide named May (Gao Yuanyuan) whom he knew from his university days. She’s a beautiful young woman with a bright smile but haunting eyes. They meet for dinner and learn that there are unresolved feelings between them that have long been kept silent. Together again, they explore their pasts and the mismatched memories that once bound and then separated them.
The two seem most as odds about whether they were indeed a couple and more so, how physically romantic were they. These are conversations that take place throughout the story over dinners and walks about the beautiful city, most often seen through Dong Ha’s perspective, where he remembers things differently from her, who seems guarded about their past and her present. Of course, the rain is very much a part of their experience, and it washes over them at opportune times in the story to remind us that all things good and bad will in time wash away.
Directed by Jin-ho Hur, a South Korean filmmaker, A Good Rain Knows was originally meant to be included in Chinese director’s Cui Jian and Fruit Chan‘s two-part love story, Chengdu, I Love You but was expanded into this full-length story instead. Simple and refined, it is breathlessly beautiful, its lush cinematography of Chendu clearly in great admiration of the historical city, which was hit with a devastating 8.0 earthquake in 2008, the effects of which play a small part in the film.
The relationship between these two characters is what drives the film, two powerfully natural performances that take their time, gestate with effective silence and gentle moments of authenticity as if we are witnessing something entirely un-staged. Dong-Ha is clearly, desperately in love with May, who herself seems always needful of his attention but at arm’s length, protective of something painfully precious. Jung and Yuanyuan are well-cast and convincing.
There are contrived moments of course, the trapping of the genre force a few too many moments of soft music-montage of the couple connecting, but they don’t diminish the intelligently-written dialogue nor their delivery. This is about a place and time, a sensual painting of color and sound that while slowly-paced, is rich with emotion. Hur is in no hurry, and lets long moments pass with these characters, together and alone where there is not a word spoken, and yet much is said.
But what is spoken is done so in three languages, though primarily in English as Dong Ha is Korean and May is Chinese, and it is their imperfect use of English that actually adds great depth to the story. While both are excellent English speakers, the natural differences in pronunciation, cadence, and emphasis layers their relationship with a clear division but more importantly, a more clearly defined connection. It’s handled very well.
There’s no escaping melodrama, it’s part and parcel to the genre, and Hur doesn’t avoid it altogether, but he does use it well. There aren’t a lot of surprises here, but nor should there be. This isn’t about sweeping emotional ups and downs but rather finding something in the spaces between two people with a second chance. It’s a tender little film, unabashedly romantic, but sweetly made. It’s our Hot Flick Pick for the week.
Director: Jin-ho Hur
Writers: Han-yeol Lee, Jin-ho Hur
Stars: Woo-sung Jung, Yuanyuan Gao, Sang-ho Kim
Genre: Romance, Drama
Language: English, Korean, Chinese