During the Chin and Han era, Commander Wang Sheng (Chen Kun) leads his troops in a raid, and rescued Xiao Wei (Zhou Xun). He brings her back with him, without realising that she is a fox spirit, who needs a regular supply of human hearts to maintain her human form. To prove his love to Xiao Wei, Xiao Yi (Qi Yu Wu) - a chameleon in human form, murders everyday to provide her with human hearts. However, Xiao Wei only likes Wang and tries to seduce Wang to steal him from his wife Pei Rong (Vicki Zhao), who finds out her identity and secretly approaches martial arts expert Pang Yong (Donnie Yen) and demon Catcher Xia Bing (Sun Li) for help, resulting in an unexpected ending...
After 95 minutes of running time, the only redeeming factor in Painted Skin is the wretched performances of Vicky Zhao Wei and Zhou Xun even though the marketing tries to sell it as the first fantasy action drama from China.
This million dollar production which is co-funded by China, Hong Kong and Singapore investors and featured a stellar cast and crew based its premise on a short story from the renowned Strange Tales of Liao Zhai. In this Gordon Chan’s helmed version, a fox spirit Xiao Wei (Zhou Xun) tries to break up the marriage of Commander Sheng (Chen Kun) and his wife, Pei Rong (Zhao Wei) but her plan is thwarted by a novice demon catcher Bing and Pang Yong, an ex-commander of the army (Donnie Yen).
Chan tries his best to pull every trick out of his bag to give audience a fresh perspective at the good old familiar folktale. But it turns out there’s nothing in the end for the audience to cling on. The snail-crawl pacing which ironically similar to the 1993 King Hu’s version which starred Joey Wong and Adam Cheng is an ordeal to the audience’s patience. In order to break the monotonous mood, Chan threw in scenes of Pang Yong chasing after the chameleon spirit (played by our local Qi Yuwu), jumping from one rooftop to another with the help of quick frantic editing cuts. Whenever the chameleon spirit appears, you know it’s the cue to activate the stunt choreographer.
The character of Pang Yong in fact is a complex one. He’s shown in the beginning as an Army commander who abandoned his troops and one who pines for his ex-lover Pei Rong but screentime obviously is not on Yen’s side. And why is Xiao Wei so obessesed with Sheng? Did Sheng ever fall in love with Wei? These and Yong's subplot are never fully articulated on screen as much of the story is devoted to the dragging premise of the evil Xiao Wei and Pei Rong's suspicion against her. Upcoming mainland actor, Chen Kun meantime turns in a dull, uninspiring performance as the man torn between his lawful wife and the scheming Xiao Wei.
Perhaps owing to China’s stringent censorship rules, there are hints of sensual erotic but only fleeting shots of it remains. The so-called fantasy ghostly element is further diluted with less than creepy CG effect and the inclusion of action man Donnie Yen only serves to distract the audience from snoozing. To Tsui Hark’s credit at least he did daringly revamped another classic tale, Green Snake.
Way too predictable and conventional, it's a pity Chan didn’t manage to instill fresh elements into a classic tale given the opportunity.
SPECIAL FEATURES :
Both Behind-the-Scenes feature and also The Making of serves the same purpose so it’s a puzzle why they are separated on the menus. The features which looked like some online webisodes touch on the usual cast and crew interviews, how the stunts are staged, makeup visual effect and also an interesting feature on lighting the night shoots. The DVD is round up by a trailer and tv spots.
The visual is commendable while the Dolby Digital 2.0 audio which comes only in a single Mandarin track lacks the usual activity in the surround owing to the nature of the movie. Dialogue nevertheless is of utmost clarity.
by Linus Tee