Set in 1808 Korea during the Joseon Dynasty, Kim Dae-seung's South Korean film "Blood Rain" concerns mysterious goings-on at a paper mill on a secluded island. Years after a commissioner and his family were executed for allegedly practicing Catholicism, his informants begin turning up dead, all killed in the same grisly manners as his family. When an investigator (Cha Seung-won) is brought to the island, he is met with conflicting stories from the leaders, who think that a killer is on the loose, and the superstitious workers, who believe the commissioner's ghost has returned for revenge. Various suspects are interrogated and isolated, but the investigator remains baffled as the bodies pile up.
Aside from the period setting and costumes, "Blood Rain" plays like a fairly conventional murder mystery-cum-slasher film. On that level, it works relatively well. A good amount of ambiguity is built up as the film toggles back and forth between its possibly rational and supernatural readings, and there is plenty of unexpectedly gratuitous gore, including deaths by boiling, spearing, and quartering (not to mention a gruesome scene of unsimulated chicken slaughtering). The historical aspects of the story are less satisfying, however. Although the film touches on themes of religious intolerance and class resentments in 19th century Korean society, it fails to provide much background or context for those unfamiliar with Korean history. It may be that the film was not necessarily intended for wide international release, but as a period film it feels somewhat empty.
The film's major flaw is its editing. Flashbacks are frequently interweaved in the action without warning or any immediate indication that they are flashbacks, causing some confusion as to the order of some of the events. Even when the film was over, I still was confused about several plot threads, and it wasn't clear whether this was due to the editing or to plot holes. In addition, the movie tries one's patience at nearly two hours in length. For a film that relies chiefly on suspense, it would have benefitted from tighter editing and a quicker pace. Still, "Blood Rain" is worth a look for those interested in Asian cinema and particularly Korean films. If you can forgive the occasional convolution, you may find something to enjoy here.
The transfer from Pathfinder Home Entertainment is very poor, as has come to be expected of this company. While the film is presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen, the picture is filled with digital artifacts that are a constant distraction. Colors are not very vibrant, and black levels are a bit grayish. The movie itself features some nice cinematography, but it is impossible to fully appreciate it in this terrible condition. All of this would have been halfway acceptable 10 years ago, but is outright offensive to DVD owners in this day and age.
Audio fares a little better in a Dolby Digital stereo track. The louder sound effects are appropriately forceful, and voices and music are mostly clear. It's nothing too impressive, but it suffices. Unfortunately, the English subtitles are not removable and are riddled with spelling errors.
The only extra is a theatrical trailer of horrible video quality, presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.
"Blood Rain" is definitely an interesting film, especially for those interested in Asian cinema. It has its fair share of flaws but is not without suspense or shocks. Unfortunately, Pathfinder's DVD is an abomination, and its unacceptable quality is a great disservice to this movie.
Note: The package incorrectly lists the running time as 103 minutes. The correct time is 119 minutes.