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November 07, 2012

Painted Skin: The Resurrection

painted skin 2 poster.jpg

Hua Pi Er
Wuershan - 2012
Well Go USA Entertainment Region A BD

Sometimes the best thing to do is to give in to the spectacle.

A movie I've enjoyed revisiting is The Thief of Bagdad, the 1940 version, partially directed by Michael Powell. And let's face it, what anyone remembers best is not the romance between June Duprez and John Justin, but young Sabu turning into a small, stray dog, and Rex Ingram, a giant genie with an equally huge laugh. There was a time, during the 1940s and 50s, when Arabian fantasies were a Hollywood staple. It takes a certain amount of disbelief to accept Tony Curtis as The Son of Ali Baba or Piper Laurie as a Persian princess, but these films were often entertaining equally because of as well as in spite of the goofiness of the film's premise.

While the Painted Skin series doesn't have the kind of casting that might cause viewers' eyes to roll, the stories are not too far removed from Hollywood fantasies about exotic lands, where fates of lovers is often determined by magic. Here we have a bumbling demon hunter, the descendant of generations of demon hunters, who encounters a lovely demon, and has to be convinced by her that she is in fact a bird temporarily in human form. The main story is of a fox demon who trades her body with a princess in order to know human love. The princess has a scarred face, partially hidden by a mask, kind of like the Phantom of the Opera. She's in love with a guard, who hides his feelings due to his not being of royalty. In Painted Skin: The Resurrection, love is impossible because each would-be lover needs what their object of affection has, be it a heart, immortality, or beauty.

painted skin 2 a.jpg

I haven't seen Gordan Chan's 2008 version of Painted Skin, yet that doesn't seem entirely necessary as the new film doesn't depend on knowledge of that film. I do highly recommend King Hu's frequently daffy 1993 version of Painted Skin. There is also a 1966 film of this retold story. Zhou Xun appears in both Chan's film and here as Xiaowei, the fox demon. Vickie Zhao Wei, also from the first film, appears as the scarred princess. Yang Mi almost flies away with the film as the bird demon. Slender, with a high pitched voice, Yang helps keep the enterprise from becoming to serious. To what extent it smuggles into this film, a huge commercial success in China, is the idea that it is the women who are usually in control, while the men tend to bungle things up, not recognizing their own limitations. Painted Skin: The Resurrection is advertised as a story of true love, but often the real love is between the women.

Wuershan previously made some impact with The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman a couple of years ago. The overuse of digital coloring, special effects, and over-editing from that film have been toned down. I'm certain that the two hour plus running time could have been shortened had Wuershan not been so enamored of slow motion. While I'm not against using the newest technology, there is a tipping point when it becomes too much, to the detriment of the film. As far as I'm concerned, the most magical aspect to Painted Skin: The Resurrection is the presence of Zhou Xun and Zhao Wei sharing the screen.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 7, 2012 08:21 AM