Cast: Zhou Xun, Vicky Zhao Wei, Chen Kun, Yang Mi, Feng Shao Feng, Chen Ting Jia, Kris Phillips
RunTime: 2 hrs 12 mins
Rating: NC-16 (Some Sexual Scenes)
Released By: Clover Films & Cathay-Keris Films
Opening Day: 5 July 2012
Synopsis: According to the demon lore, it takes hundreds of years to attain human form. Even then, lacking a human heart, a demon cannot experience the true pains and passions of existence. However, there is a legend that if a pure human heart is freely offered to a demon, it can become a mortal and experience true life. Xiaowei, a fox spirit, has been imprisoned for centuries under a frozen lake for violating the laws of the demon world. Her sheer will to survive attracted the bird spirit Que’r, who broke through the ice and revived her. Xiaowei saw two choices: experience true death or become truly human. She regains her strength – and youth – by consuming the heart of a stranger, transforming herself into a beautiful seductress. Unknown to her, the stranger is the Prince of Tian Lang Kingdom…
This reviewer first laid eyes on Mainland Chinese actress Zhou Xun some 10 years ago in Fruit Chan’s Hollywood Hong Kong (2001). The charismatic Zhejiang born star, who is regarded as one of the “Four Young Dan actresses” in the early 2000s (the other four being Zhang Ziyi, Xu Jinglei and Zhao Wei), went on to star in films like Balzac and the Little Mistress (2001), Perhaps Love (2005) and The Banquet (2006), each performance as captivating as the other.
The 37 year old then took on a somewhat villainous role in 2008’s Painted Skin, and her entrancing portrayal as a fox spirit won praises from critics everywhere. In this unofficial sequel, Zhou reprises her role as Xiao Wei, the fox spirit who yearns to become a human being. Zhou is not the only cast member to return – Zhao Wei and Chen Kun also star in this Chinese action fantasy movie, but as new characters.
Zhou’s Xiao Wei lacks a human heart to become a true human being. However, the catch here is that the heart must be one that is given to the fox spirit voluntarily. She meets a princess (Zhao), who was mauled by a bear when she was younger. Ashamed of her disfigured face, she wears a golden mask. Enter a handsome guard (Chen) who happens to be her childhood sweetheart, and a complicated tale of love, jealously, rivalry and sacrifice.
Chinese director Wuershan (The Butcher, the Chef and the Swordsman) takes over from Gordon Chan to helm this high budgeted movie touted as the “Asian mythical Blockbuster of the Year”. The first thing you’d notice is the excessive usage of special effects and CGI, which, to be fair, a pleasing to the eyes initially – until you realise that many of the sequences can do without the flashy effects. Be it the sprawling landscapes, the tedious swordfights, or the hoards of armies from the enemy camp, the unwarranted showcase of the special effects wizards are breathtaking, but tedious to look at after a while. While what we are getting locally is the digital 2D version, we hear that there is a 3D release in China. Maybe the Chinese audience would be suitably impressed?
There is really no need for the filmmakers to indulge themselves in so much computer generated effects, because the cast is fully capable of delivering fine performances. The show obviously belongs to Zhou, who manages to hypnotise in the most fantastical way you can imagine every time she makes her presence felt on screen. Her co star (and rumoured rival) Zhao does a decent job of portraying an emotionally torn princess who cannot decide what’s good for her. Chen, while suave and charming in his own right, skims the surface of a rather unlikable character.
Taiwanpop singer and Broadway performer Kris Phillips (also known as Fei Xiang to the older viewers) show up as an unintentionally hilarious baddie, spouting an almost laughable barbarian language while donning a spiky halo and a shaven head. A pleasant surprise comes in the form of Yang Mi and Feng Shao Feng as an unlikely couple – a bird spirit and a demon catcher. The chemistry between the two is so likeable, their on screen appearances help bring the overly serious movie up a notch.
(An unwarranted showcase of excessive special effects saved by the fine performances of its capable cast)
Review by John Li