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Painted Skin: The Resurrection
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by Jay Seaver

"Has something weird for everyone."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2012 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Newcomers should not be too put-off by the fact that "Painted Skin: The Resurrection" has a subtitle or a roman numeral depending on whether the title is written in English or Chinese; the first text on the screen more or less reads "500 years later", so you're talking about a pretty clean start. Once you get past that, it's just a simple gothic martial-arts horror romance fantasy.

Fox demon Xiaowei (Zhou Xun) has spent the last five centuries imprisoned in ice for the crime of falling in love with a mortal, but is freed when Qeer, a curious young sparrow demon, creates a crack. The two return to the mortal world, where eating human hearts not only allows them to retain human form (as it does) but keeps the ice from swallowing Xiaowei again. The only remedy is to become human by having a heart given to Xiaowei freely. The key is Princess Jing (Zhao Wei), whose scarred face, the circumstances behind it, and their differences in caste keep her from being with her true love General Huo Xin (Chen Kun) until Xiaowei befriends her and offers her the chance to swap their skins. Meanwhile, the latest in a family of demon hunters, Pang Lang (Feng Shaofeng) has an inkling that something is up, so Qeer (Yang Mini) shows up to keep him out of the way.

Painted Skin: The Resurrection is a dark fantasy by way of the erotic thriller - few of the latter have ever taken the idea of a woman who insinuates herself with a couple so that she can work her way into their beds and rip their hearts out quite so literally! And yet, for all the moralizing that usually accompanies the genre's titilation, the set-up and relationships here are surprisingly complex. Even as Xioawei schemes, her motivation is desperation rather than the usual hatred (she actually seems to like Jing), and the lack of actual enmity makes the strange triangle all the more interesting.

And then the last act comes, and it is gloriously, wonderfully nuts. Though what happens doesn't appear out of the blue - it's actually subplots that the movie has been dutifully setting up with every mention of the nearby Ting Lang State - it's a pretty sudden shift from being an elegant, sensual sort of romance with comic relief to pulp fiction. That climactic set-piece is Robert E. Howard by way of Shaw Brothers, but it pulls everything that went on in the rest of the movie (including demonstrations of just how good an archer Huo Xin is) into a rousing, satisfying finale.

In addition to Zhuo Xun, Zhao Wei and Chen Kun also return from the first Painted Skin movie, though they appear to be playing completely different characters and no mention is made of them resembling anyone. Chen Kun isn't bad at all as Huo Xin; he's got the sexy brooding guilt going on without it defining his entire character, in fact coming across as kind of a funny guy when not in the middle of an operatic melodrama. Zhou Xun and Zhao Wei give performances that can easily be taken for granted until the viewer realizes that he or she has followed the characters into different bodies without a hitch, and it never feels like one actress imitating the other. Mini Yang and Feng Shaofeng lighten things up with funny and flirty performances that don't distract but make a youthful counterpoint to what's going on with the other characters. And while they don't appear much until toward the end, Chen Tingjia and especially Kris Philips provide some great foaming-at-the-mouth bombast toward the end.

Director Wuershan fulfills some of the promise he showed in his chaotic The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman; working with other writers (Ran Ping and Ran Jia’nan) in a somewhat more traditional structure lets him be stylish without going over the edge to experimental and confusing as sometimes happened in his previous feature. Yes, he likes the slow motion and hero shots a lot, but he also makes the transition in styles before the finale a lot smoother than many directors would. He seems well-suited to this new style of Chinese blockbuster which emphasizes wire work, lavish costume design, and a lot of CGI environments.

(Credits and posters indicated it got a 3D release in China, although based on the way that the movie was shot, it was probably a post-conversion job. It looks pretty nice in 2D, at least.)

The movie does have a bit of a saggy section in the middle - for all its weirdness and potential for twists, it's really not so complicated that it needs to slow down and let stuff sink in. But there's a reason why it's a huge blockbuster in China; it's a rare movie that is able to entertain those who come looking for action, romance, and/or horror so well.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=24038&reviewer=371
originally posted: 08/08/12 03:55:53
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2012 series, click here.

User Comments

9/11/12 Andy With such a big budget why is the cg so poor? 3 stars
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Directed by

Written by
  Ran Ping
  Ran Jia’nan

  Kun Chen
  Wei Zhao
  Xun Zhou
  Mini Yang
  Shaofeng Feng

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