Rain Dogs Review
Rain Dogs is another film that is part of the Focus: First Cuts venture, an initiative to give a platform to fresh new Asian directing talent from mainland China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan. While each of the films seem to offer the range and variety you would expect from new filmmakers from these diverse locations, most would appear to be made to appeal to a large popular audience, with even new young Chinese director Ning Hao (Mongolian Ping Pong) coming up with a comedy heist movie in Crazy Stone. Although there is a familiar undercurrent of street crime and mob violence underlying Rain Dogs, Malaysian director Ho Yuhang takes a much more reflective approach to its rites of passage subject matter.
Living alone with his mother in the country, it is only when 19 year-old Tung (Kuan Choun Wai) goes to meet his brother Hong (Cheung Wing Hong) in Kuala Lumpur, attempting to bring about a reconciliation between Hong and his mother, that he is introduced to the harsh realities of the world. Staying in a hotel, he is approached by a prostitute and soon finds himself robbed of his money. It’s a side of life that his brother is more familiar with, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with or any less dangerous. When he too has a run-in with one of the street gangs, the lesson is brought sharply home to Tung.
The next step in Tung’s growth comes about from perhaps the same kind of circumstance that drove his brother to Kuala Lumpur. Getting into a row with his mother, he leaves home and goes to stay for a while with his aunt and her husband. He gets to know a young girl Hui, who tutors his young cousin, and through Hui her sister, becoming involved in their affairs and their difficulties with a troublesome boyfriend. Having never known his own father, his uncle becomes a kind of father figure – not necessarily of the best kind - who guides him through another few harsh life lessons.
All this takes place at a rather languid pace, the depiction of Tung’s journey through adolescence simple, lyrical and elegant, but with a hard edge underneath that recalls Days Of Being Wild and Last Life In The Universe. There is little on-screen depiction of the violence, yet its presence and menace is fully felt - the few blows that are seen taking on a certain amount of force and making a significant mark on the young man. There is consequently little that is stated explicitly in Rain Dogs and little in the way of dramatic situations, but the film is nonetheless superbly structured, if slowly paced, and much more expressive in the relationships it develops between characters and in the nature of family bonds. Making the most of the Malaysian locations and the running theme of ‘I Feel Like A Motherless Child’ to carry its mood, Rain Dogs is impressive in its depiction of life and how it is lived.
Rain Dogs is released in Hong Kong by IVL. The DVD is in NTSC format and is region-free.
Shot on HD Digital Video and transferred anamorphically at a ratio of 1.78:1, the film looks superb here. The image is always clear, colourful and detailed with not a single mark on the print. The only issues with the transfer are the macroblocking artefacts that can occasionally be quite evident and some motion blurring. How problematic these issues are will depend on the size and make-up of your display, but most people will find this looks just fine.
There is only one audio option, presenting the original Cantonese soundtrack as Dolby Digital 5.1. It makes prominent use of the front and centre speakers, only occasionally pushing ambient effects discreetly to the rear speakers, effectively making use of them without drawing attention away from the screen.
Optional English subtitles are available. White, in a clear, well-sized font, they are free from any kind of grammatical or spelling errors.
The only extra feature directly related to the film is Trailer (1:58), which accurately conveys the tone and nature of the film. It has fixed English subtitles, though the audio is quite echoing. The remainder of the extra features are just promotional material for Focus: First Cuts consisting of a Showreel (3:26) and Trailers for I’ll Call You, Shoe Fairy, Crazy Stone and Love Story. There is also a Photo Gallery (0:57) which can be navigated through or viewed as a slideshow.
Some viewers might expect more plot and drama from Rain Dogs, but its real strengths lie beneath the surface. Slow and moody, Rain Dogs is one of those films that lifts you, holds you and sweeps you along in its beauty and rhythm to reveal its underlying meaning, defining the characters and their bonds and inviting the viewer to join in the experience rather than merely watch it. IVL’s presentation of the feature on DVD supports those intentions well with a reasonably good transfer that fully captures the essential mood of the film.