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Based upon the classic literature of Liao Zai, Painted Skin is an
adaptation of one of the stories that dwell on fox spirits. If you're
someone expecting either a supernatural spook fest, or an amalgamation
of ghosts and kung fu, you might be disappointed to find out that it's
actually a romance through and through, with complicated relationships
all around that you can weave a complex web of love and lust amongst
the players involved.
Chen Kun plays Wang Sheng, a general whose army recently overrun the camp of a group of barbarians. In their battle, he rescues a beautiful girl from the grasp of the enemy, and brings her home out of pity and suggestive lust, given that she looks like Zhou Xun. OK, so Zhou Xun plays Xiao Wei, who unknowing to everyone else, is a fox spirit (touted always as beautiful beings in their human form) with an appetite for human hearts in order to maintain her beauty and youth.
Thus begins a tussle for General Wang's heart by both Xiao Wei and Vicky Zhao's Pei Rong, who is the dutiful and demure wife of Wang Sheng. Pei Rong is indeed wary and beginning to suspect Xiao Wei's supernatural abilities when a spate of killings surface with her arrival, but with no proof, Xiao Wei starts to sow discord between the man and wife in order to try and become the new Mrs Wang. It's quite an interesting attempt through the characters to tell of the varying degrees and types of love, one of possession in Xiao Wei's ruthless means to reach her objective, and one of sacrificing for the love and well being of the other half, as established through Pei Rong's selfless courage.
But that's not all. Throw in Donnie Yen as an ex-general Pang Yong, who also shares the hots for Pei Rong, and one time rival of Wang Sheng for her affections, a bumbling lowly ghostbuster Xia Bin (Sun Li) who is in possession of a fabled mythical weapon (opportunity to show off some special effects here, and quite a sight to behold too in its temporal usage) and denying her affections for Pang Yong, and Qi Yuwu as a lizard spirit whose infatuation with Xiao Wei ensures that she gets her fair share of food without the need to get her hands dirty. Connected the dots yet?
Fans of Donnie Yen will probably be a tad disappointed by his limited screen appearance, and for the most parts he's either playing the joker, where his jokes will likely be lost in translation, going by the English subtitles that didn't manage to truly capture the essence of his lines, and the remaining screen time having to see him execute some action, but nothing groundbreaking and not seen before. We know what Donnie Yen can do, and perhaps in seeking some form of redemption, the story has a flashback scene where he dons armor yet again (anyone remember the dismal result of An Empress And Her Warriors) and does battle in a scene which Jackie Chan has already stamped his authority on.
One could have expected the Gordon Chan is familiar with shooting decent action sequences, but you don't really get a lot of that in Painted Skin, save for some generic rooftop chase in the night, and a be all and end all finale where no punches got pulled, though it really got marred by all the tight shots that all you'd probably get to see is a blur. The narrative also got a little choppy in the mid section, and you do feel that a huge chunk of detail got summarized to keep it running generously under two hours, with subplots dropped that I suspect involved the growing affection and admiration between Pang Yong and Xia Bin, in order not to distract the audience from the main love triangle of Pang Yong, Xiao Wei and Pei Rong.
All in all, this is recommended for Zhou Xun's face off with Zhao Wei, especially with the former playing the temptress role to perfection. The last where we saw two prominent Chinese actresses square off was between Zhang Ziyi and Gong Li in Memoirs of a Geisha. Otherwise, Painted Skin held a lot of promise, but didn't deliver that level of oomph in its final product, lapsing into mediocrity throughout.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie is not a horror, monster or romance movie. It reflects very
well social panic today in China: third leg in marriage. Almost all
Chinese females start to discuss about this fiercely online after
watching the movie. There wasn't much horror at least in my opinion,
but mainly complicated relationships.
Background: Traditionally Chinese men could have one wife and several concubines (with lower social position than the wife). Communist government made up law of one-wife-only since 1949. However, when China started to get rich, underground lovers start to emerge again and this trend is growing stronger each day since the last 15 years.
Story and implication: The movie almost directly indicates this social phenomenon: The General indicates a powerful and rich man, his wife represents the Chinese traditional image of wife (she lives for her husband and is very tolerant until the last moment, but still would sacrifice herself for the husband's good). The fox woman and the lizard man are at lower social positions because they are monsters (just how the rich and powerful Chinese see the lower social class). They are highly skilled people though (we can consider them as freshly graduated university students). Just like many Chinese women struggling in the lower social class (in reality can be a nightclub waitress, erotic massager and so on), the fox woman met the General and gave him a "beautiful, weak, needs protection" impression. On the other hand, the lizard man was ignored by society (he was invisible sometimes in the movie), just as many male in the lower social level.
The General let the fox woman into his private life, giving her many privileges that only wife can enjoy (having maids, managing daily stuff at home, can even take over the wife's order, see the dinner scene when the wife was late). The only thing that he has not given her is sex-of course in reality the powerful man must have had sex with this third leg in marriage. The fox woman, given so many indications, believed that she could take over the position of wife (social position up-climb), rather than just becoming concubine.
However, ex-lover of the wife, and social order keeper (the joker-alike woman) showed up. In reality, there would not be ex-lover, but family and other supporters of the wife (possibly also powerful, like indicated in the movie), and social order keeper can be the public, mass media etc. Social order keeper seemed useless at the beginning in front of the General, which clearly shows today's society power in China. Supporter of the wife could not help much because the wife's own decision determines all.
Lizard man's existence was considered redundant by many who could not read the social background of China. Lizard man is skilled but still helpless, struggles alone and loyal to the woman he loves, who only look up to power and money. This indicates a serious social problem in China: imbalanced male-female ratio causes many men with lower social-position to be left out in marriage, while richer and more powerful men can enjoy several women at the same time.
It is a good movie after all, though if audience is non-Chinese it can be hard to enjoy: not much visual effect, not much fighting.
"Hua Pi", or "Painted Skin", is one of the hundreds of stories in Pu
Songling's 18th-century supernatural fantasy collection, but this 2008
version based on one of the collection's most famous piece is a very
loose retelling. Even the main persons are changed: Gordon Chan
switches the male protagonist from a scholar into a general and adds in
two main/side characters in actors Donnie Yen and Sun Li, one a jilted
ex-general, the other a demon buster.
Sadly, though Chan revised the story himself, he does not imbue the material with enough depth and resonance, with the result the horror-romance has a somewhat vacuous feel to it. The emotions examined sometimes can seem stock rather than refreshing. The editor too must take some blame for failing to put together the movie in an intriguing way. There is just too much distracting visual trickery along the way. Kudos to the art director, cinematographer and costume designer for giving an authentic, Han-dynasty feel to the narrative, yet though the characterizations may be fairly enjoyable maybe Gordon Chan is just not the person to helm this sort of project.
Gordon Chan is better known as an action director and by the looks of this film, should much better remain as one. He at present lacks the ability to tackle a period romance film. I grade "Hua Pi" just 5 stars despite it being aesthetically pleasing to look at. However alluring it looks (and it is entertaining in some ways), the movie tends to show its lack of depth, although it is by no means that terrible a movie. Strangely though this movie is Hong Kong's entry to the Foreign Language Oscars.
I recently saw this at the 2009 Palm Springs International Film Festival. I didn't know quite what to expect of it but being Hong Kong's official entry to the 81st Acadmy Awards I thought it may be of some value. This film is adapted from the 300 year old classic ghost story of Song Ling Pu and is a combination of historical romance, supernatural and martial arts from director Gordon Chan who also wrote the screenplay along with Abe Kwong and Lau Ho Leung with action scenes directed by Wei Tung. Yong (Donnie Yen) is China's best warrior. His former love Peirong (Wei Zhao) is now married to Wang Sheng (Ken Chen) the commander of the armies. In a raid on desert bandits the beautiful Xiao Wei is taken into the armies custody and she takes a liking to Wang Sheng but Peirong stands in her way. Mysterious grizzly deaths start happening and soon Xia-Bing (Betty Sun) a tough female hunter of demons shows up. Xiao Yi (David Leong) is the mysterious supernatural companion to the beautiful but deadly Xiao Wei. This is an entertaining story and makes for a great debut film for director Chan. Great cinematography from Arthur Wong and a great visual setting from the art department of art director bill Liv and production designer Chung Man Yee. A co-production of Hong Kong with China and Singapore it's a little drawn out but worth seeing. I would give it a 7.5 and recommend it.
Tagline: Revoking the days of A Chinese Ghost Story
Review by Neo: The ultra screen beauty of the early 1990s was undeniably the ambassador of ghost/romance movies, Joey Wong. Its been a long time coming since those comedy/spooky/ghostly/romance/action genre. The good news is that The Painted Skin's ability to revoke those kind of unique feelings, while the end product may not be the same. That's not to say The Painted Skin is not a good movie, as the current reviewer thoroughly enjoyed the ride, but in the end, it just feels a little too forgettable. Carried by the consistently good actress in Zhou Xun (who have now developed a reputation for being head and shoulder above her given material) who attempts to follow the foot step of Joey Wong and adding to the pot of fire is an equally impressive return to form by Vicky Xiao Wei. Perhaps the downside is easily Alloy Chen (Playboy Cops) who appears to be miscasted in a role born to be played by say, Liu Ye (Connected). Adding to the mix is the overacting of Donnie Yen (who is intentionally funny by overacting, rather than in Seven Swords where his limited emotional range became more laughable than all the jokes added up together in that flick.
In many ways, Painted Skin feels like The Promise, it allows the audience to totally disband their beliefs and escape into another world, namely a "dream". While Neo was one of the few people who actually liked the uneven and largely acclaimed "disappointment", The Promise. The Painted Skin fares even between and sometimes it is just fun to live within a dream. Perhaps fans of action cinema would have expected more, as one would expect in a Donnie Yen's flick. In fact, this isn't a Donnie Yen film where he grins, kicks ass and ultimately kick more asses, but rather, at its core, a love story, a light hearted genre mixture of action, ghosts and comedy. Quite simply revoking those days when movies like A Chinese Ghost Story are still in existence. Then again, when a movie leaves you thinking about Joey Wong, it really can't be half bad.
There is no doubt that Mainland starlet, Zhou Xun is a shinning star. Ever since Neo first associated with Zhou Xun in Fruit Chan's Hollywood Hong Kong, he knew that there was something special and her display in Peter Chan's Perhaps Love enhanced her reputation to mainstream Hong Kong cinema. Although Zhou Xun does not possess the sweetest voice, her vocal is distinctive, easily recognizable and really something of an acquired taste. Her looks are pretty, but pale in-comparsion to compatriot Fan Bing Bing. Still her acting, her screen chemistry, her sheer screen presence makes Zhou Xun easily one of the better actress in Hong Kong cinema now. Here, she performs to perfection, the cross between humanity and evil, and her ability to allow the audience to sympathesis with her character is not something that everyone can achieve. Cliché and cheesy as the finale may seem to be, the current reviewer is leaning towards liking it.
If there is one aspect about reviewing movies that Neo enjoys is the part where he gets to talk about performances. I fondly remember way back in 2005, Koma provided a moment for two acting queens in Karena Lam and Angelica Lee and likewise, Painted Skins goes head to head with Zhou Xun and Zhao Wei. The Shaolin Soccer girl (Zhao Wei) performs more than admirably and certainly a triumphant return to form. In arguably a much more difficult role than her counterpart, she still manages to engage the audience and maintain some believability within the dream.
Donnie Yen has come a long way since those Shanghai Affairs and Legend of the Wolf days, but it is not surprising that while his screen presence has increased dramatically, the same cannot be said about his acting. Luckily, The Painted Skin does not require Yen to act and the result is one of Yen's better comedic display in recent years. Remember the time when Yen tried to emotes in Seven Swords, it was unintentionally laughable, here, Yen deliberately overacts and the effect is the audience laughing with him, rather than at him. As for Alloy Chen, it just goes without saying that he still have a few notches behind the girls. Perhaps his good looks overshadowed his already non-existent performance. While it is adequate, there are not sparks and his chemistry with Zhao Wei comes up lacking. Fearless's Betty Sun makes her second film and passes with flying colours. Her lively performance, brighten up the film in all corners and somehow manages to romance with the "non-romance-able" Donnie Yen.
All in all, Painted Skin ends up being good cinema, due largely to the performances of the two leading actresses. There is no doubt that Skin gains even more sympathy points for alluding to those early 90s genre movies. So what's wrong with Painted Skin, maybe you can argue about the lack of action, lack of a storyline or even the believability factor. However, Neo seems to think otherwise, as Painted Skin feels like a dream. Not entirely a successful movie, but certainly any movie that reminds the current reviewer of the sheer beauty of Joey Wong, really can't be too bad (Neo 2009)
I rate it 7.5/10
Ever since his early "Dragon Inn" days, Donnie Yen has had a commanding
screen presence. In his more recent movies, he always plays himself -
strong, violent, a believer in rough justice - and he always delivers
great action scenes. He's the only reason to watch this film to the
end. He makes the most of his screen time, which regrettably is not
anywhere near as much as one wishes.
The film is chugging along great when about halfway through, it just abruptly runs out of plot. In order to fill the remaining time, the actors suddenly start moving and talking incredibly slowly. I thought there was something wrong with my computer. It has to be seen to be believed. Donnie Yen is the only one immune to this strange infection, but sadly, he is not permitted to carry the film by himself.
From what I can remember, the actual story was not really about love.
It was just another ghost story in that famous book. Unlike those
typical scary ghost movies, this movie is more about love.
The music was Hollywood like. It has been a few days since I watched it. So I can't call it fantastic or not. Actually, the whole movie felt so different than those typical Chinese movie, the color, the sceneries, etc, they look very western.
The costumes look exotic, and colorful. I didn't know that the Lizard man actually was a lizard until after I watched the DVD extra. The make-up artists could have made his face and body more lizard like. And when Xiao wei turned all white at the end of the movie, her face reminds me of the Japanese movie "Grudge". Chinese ghosts typically don't look like that according to the traditional Chinese cultures.
Zhao Wei was excellent. I have seen her in other movies. She is entirely different in this movie.
Sigh. Donnie Yen, Wei Zhao, a killer concept - how could this not be
Well, unfortunately, "they" found a way.
There's honestly little point in giving a summary of the plot here, as it may make whoever reads this want to see it, only to turn it off a long time before the end credits roll.
So, how best to describe this film honestly?
Well, perhaps mumbled, confused, dull, with poor action sequences, humour that won't amuse and zero chemistry between those supposedly loving and trying to seduce one another would be a pretty good start.
Seriously, films like this make me feel so sorry for all those aspiring writers, actors and film-makers who can't get the funds to put a low-budget project together, when such dismal trash is clearly tossing cash into the wind.
I needn't have to advise anyone reading this to avoid it, but shall do all the same:
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's not a horror movie although the concepts of having a demon that
requires a steady diet of human hearts in order to keep it's fake skin
looking fresh could be horrific if filmed the right way.
It could be a love triangle story as it shows the internal conflict of a man who loves his wife dearly but is intrigued by the new young lady who's entered into his life.
There's some interesting characters - Donnie Yen who's unrequited love comes back to request his assistance in solving the murder mysteries to which she has a prime suspect.
There's the wife who's torn between fear of the demon, jealousy of her husband's attraction to the new lady in the house, and her complicated respect but not quite love for Donnie's character.
In the end, it's not about the mystery of the killings as it is all readily shown on screen who is the demon, who is not. It's more an interesting play between characters and how they interact with each other and what the real meaning of love and sacrifice is. And yet, with the horror elements in play, you cannot really take the 'love-story' part of it all that seriously and in the end you're left confused over just what it is you watched.
Undeniably the costumes, settings, and direction are all very well done. And at the end of it I was entertained, albeit a little confused.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Make no mistake about it this is a love story of many shades, with
the ultimate glorification of "love conquers all". Cynics may sneer but
even if the sincerity in "Painted skin" does not win conviction, it
To introduce this movie as the latest adaptation from the famous Chinese literature ghost story could be misleading. The movie in fact goes to great length of AVOIDING being scary. As director Gordon Chan ("A-1 headline" (2004)) explains in an interview: "this is a story of romance where six characters speak for themselves about love". The movie does indeed adapt the ghost story, but only as an anchor for the love stories. Also, the movie talks about "monsters" and not "ghosts", in order to get through the movie censor authority of the Mainland of China, to whom ghost is an absolute no-no but monsters are tolerated. While this hardly seems to matter to the audience, it means a potential market of hundreds of millions to the producers.
The plot is simple, even when it involves a double-triangle (or whatever geometrical form that is a more appropriate description) of entangled love relationships. At the centre of it all is a girl Xiaowei rescued from a battle scene by General Wang Chen and taken into his household, and becoming the darling to everybody. Xiaowei, a monster that feed on raw human hearts, falls in love with Wang and plots to usurp the place of his wife Peirong who soon suspects something. Into the scenes blunders Pang Yong, derelict loner and ex-general (Wang's old boss), as well as an old rival for Peirong, who now seeks his help to check out her fears. A chance encounter brings to Pang's side a young woman Xia Bin "Summer Ice", a "ghost-buster" hot on the trail of Xiaowei. Finally, to complete the double triangle is another monster (one that reminds you of Toad in X-men) hopelessly in love with Xiaowei but only able to please her by bringing freshly snatched human hearts (sometime served, sliced, in a bento box).
The various shades of emotions and passions between these three men and women (loosely defined) is explored deftly by director Chan, parading different levels of infatuation, obsession, devotion from subtle to fiery, from deviously possessive to nobly selfless. The movie is so delightfully unpretentious that it's almost nostalgic. In the end, love conquers all a little naïve, a bit idealistic, seen it, been there and yet so refreshingly simple that it's not difficult to empathize. And this is not the least because of the good acting.
ZHOU Xun, irresistible to the audience just as Xiaowei is irresistible to almost everyone in the story, pulls off the final conversion of a ruthless monster consumed in selfish passion to someone that finally realizes what true love really means with a degree of conviction that very few others can achieve. CHEN Kun (who played another love triangle with ZHOU in "The little Chinese seamstress", with LIU Ye as the third) look more like a scholar than a general as Weng, but that hardly matters because he is winning as the faithful husband who chooses to die with his wife that he is tricked into believing to be the monster. Vicky ZHOU Wei was told by director Chan to "grow up" and stop relying on her "cuteness" did just that in this movie, playing the most sympathy-earning roll as a wife who makes the ultimate, unspeakable sacrifice for love. Donny YEN fulfills his role in his favourite persona a loner hero with a temper of fire and a heart of gold. Betty SUN (in "Fearless" with Jet Li) provides good support as the tom-boyish monster-hunter who keeps stumbling when fighting with hate but finds herself (and her power) when driven by love.
For those not satisfied with just the love story, there is Donny Yen's martial art action (and I happen to be one who thinks that he is the best since Bruce Lee). For cinematic effects, a frequent moviegoer will be able to catch glimpses of familiarity the wall-and-roof chase scene in "Crouching tiger", the tongue shooting act in "X-man", the now-you-see-it-now-you-don't monster in "Predators", just to name a few.
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