Mmmmm!! We’re back in familiar territory with this one. Period story… check. Tragically complicated romantic triangles….. check. Lots of Kung-Fu wirework and swordplay….. check. Melodramatic ending with lots of teary romance…. check. Oh!!… and ghosts too!!…. or at least demons!! Yay!! Yep…. Neko’s been looking soooo forward to this one.
Based upon the classic Chinese literature Liao Zhai, I had been a bit worried that the more supernatural aspects might have been removed given the recent films out of Hong Kong which have fallen victim to Bejing’s aversion to ” unnecessarily promoting a belief in superstition among the masses”. I can tell you, thankfully, that is definitely NOT the case……
The synopsis reads as follows: “During the Chin and Han era, Commander Wang Sheng ( Chen Kun) leads his troops in a raid on bandits in the desert, in the process he rescues a beautiful woman and brings her back with them. However he has no idea that this woman, Xiao Wei ( Zhou Xun), is in fact a fox spirit in human form. Xiao Wei needs a regular supply of human hearts to maintain her human form, and the task falls on her helper Xiao Yi ( Qi Yu Wu)–a chameleon who’s also taken on human form and has the special ability to camouflage into the environment he is in. To prove his love and devotion to Xiao Wei, he carries out a spate of murders in order to provide her with human hearts; this terrorizes the whole city.
Meanwhile, Xiao Wei has fallen in love with Wang Sheng, after being impressed with his gallant attempt in rescuing her. She keeps trying to seduce Wang in an effort to steal him from his wife Pei Rong (Vicki Zhao). Pei Rong finds out about Xiao Wei’s feeling for her husband; she also discovers that Xiao Wei is not human, so she secretly approaches martial expert Pang Yong ( Donnie Yen) and demon Catcher Xia Bing ( Sun Li) for help…
Subsequently a drama unfolds that delves into intricate emotions and relationships between man and demon, love and passion, loyalty and temptation, treachery and integrity, ending in a finale with surprising twist.”
So….. have we got a winner here? Well, if you are a regular visitor here at the ol’ Litterbox, you just know you gotta “Read On” to find out!
Of course this lil’ Catgirl has already seen the earlier Sammo Hung film by the same name, and at first I thought it might just be a re-make of that old “A Chinese Ghost Story” wanabee. Luckily that’s not the case here, this movie, other than sharing a Title, has taken it’s own route and tells it’s own story.
This is a darker, more complicated one too. The characters are all well developed, with back stories that require you to pay attention to the details as they unfold. The particularly important one is the love triangle between Pei Rong (played by Vicki Zhao) and the two men who love her, her husband Wang Sheng (played by Chen Kun) and his best friend the heroic martial arts expert Pang Yong (played by Donnie Yen. Years before, Pie Rong chose Wang Sheng to marry over Pang Yong and he has wandered lonely and hurt ever since, having forsaken all contact with either of them since. None of these people wants to hurt the others and all of them are too noble to ever betray the sanctity of marriage, so they are trapped in an endless emotional limbo from which only the mysterious murders can force them together again.
Also, unlike the earlier ghost romance efforts, Xiao Wei, is not a misunderstood victim. She’s a demon….. and a particularly vicious, deadly, and conniving one at that. She does come to love Wang Sheng in her own selfish and possessive way, but it’s fully understood that she’ll have him all for herself no matter what evil she need to perpetrate to get him. Later in the film, she becomes more “human” in her desire to prove her love, but always comes across as dangerous…..
This one starts out well, with some nice action sequences involving a commando style raid on a bandit encampment showing us that HK hasn’t forgotten how to do the ol’ “wire-fu” action, but then the film slows down a bit in the middle and becomes more of a “police procedural” with some romantic tension thrown in to flavor things a bit. Wang Sheng and his guards try to capture the mysterious murderer stalking the city at night skillfully ripping out the hearts from his victims and easily avoiding capture night after bloody night…… but to no avail. Luckily Pang Yong returns…. dramatically showing up at Wang Sheng’s mansion and collapsing from exhaustion, seems things haven’t been going so well for him lately. Of course one has to wonder how he figures returning to the friend who ended up with the girl he loved is going to help but… hey, Neko can roll with this.
This portion of the movie drags a bit, even the introduction of Demon Hunter Xia Bing doesn’t really make things livelier. In fact, a bit more of a backstory than what we are given for her might have helped a bit, as it is her character feels a bit unnecessary to the overall story here. Obviously, she’s going to end up with Pang Yong, but I just wish her part had been a bit bigger and beefier.
Still…. without giving things away, lets just say the ending certainly ramps it up a bit, and while it lacks the simple logic of the earlier “ghost romances” that Neko has seen, it does hit all the melodramatic high points needed for the genre. Seems there’s a little life left in that sort of storytelling afterall…..
Neko lucked out and got the 2 disc “Director’s Cut” for this one with the additional 15 minutes of footage over the Theatrical release, and as always, the HK disc was excellently subtitled (for the movie at least), with a great letterbox format and a second disc with a “Making of” featurette (Not subtitled, alas…) , some photos and a collection of Music Videos, Trailers, and TV spots. I give “Painted Skin” a good, solid, 4 “Meows” out of 5 for doing a good story and having an excellent cast, sets, and effects…. but it’s by no means a perfect film…. those days may be well past for the genre, but then it’s hard to surpass the old classics. So on this one, Neko says, “If you really need your Ghost/ Romance fix, definitely give it a look see. You wont be dissapointed.”
Naturally, there’s a Youtube Trailer. This time out, the Korean release one, but it’s a much better Trailer than the HK one….. capturing the feel so much better than the official HK one and here it is!! Enjoy!