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  Publicity Stills of "Painted Veil"
(Courtesy from Shaw)

Genre: Drama/Romance
Director: John Curran
Cast: Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Liev Schreiber, Toby Jones, Anthony Wong
RunTime: 2 hrs 5 mins
Released By: Shaw
Rating: NC-16 (Scene of Intimacy)
Official Website: http://wip.warnerbros.com/paintedveil

Opening Day: 11 January 2007




A woman becomes dissatisfied with her marriage, as her husband favors of his research over time with her. An affair leads her on a journey of self-discovery, and her new dedication to fighting cholera brings her to the Far East.

Movie Review:

Adultery is never easy to handle. To the adulterer, it's the realization that the lies and deceit have come to a crashing halt. The truth has taken over, and confronting the truth is always difficult. To the one being cuckolded, the sense of betrayal probably is akin to the feeling of a thousand bricks come crashing down upon you, as confusion and loss takes over. There is almost always the broken hearts, loss of trust, and that big question on the ability, or inability, to forgive.

Based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil is a rather unconventional, complex love story set in 20th century China, amidst the backdrop of a cholera epidemic. A marriage of convenience will subject itself to problems, and Dr Walter Fane (Edward Norton) experiences and discovers it the hard way. Totally earnest in his love for his wife, Kitty (Naomi Watts), she marries him as a form of escape from her parents, and a loveless marriage is a disaster looming in the horizon.

The first half of the movie dwells on the complex relationship between the married couple, as they grapple with their new life in China, given Dr Fane's other passion on germ research. It's a detailed character study of the couple and of English society at the time, and sets the stage slowly for the impending hurt to come. The other act combines a sense of adventure as the focus gets shifted to the plight of villagers facing the cholera epidemic.

In certain ways, it's a romantic tale told in reverse gear. In typical fashion, you usually have couples falling in love before marriage, but here, it's the discovery and development of feelings within the confines of matrimony. Guess arranged marriages, or those out of convenience are as such, and thus, provided a refreshing breather of the genre.

Also, the political setting of 1925 China proved to be an interesting backdrop. With the temporal co-existence between the Nationalists and feuding warlords, it's a clash of customs as Dr Finch, as a foreigner imparting skills and ideas into combating the disease, have to battle local traditions and customs, making worse the anti-foreigner sentiments, in a period of time when Western powers were in China for their own selfish agendas.

This month is Edward Norton's month in Singapore, with the release of The Painted Veil, as well as The Illusionist, which seemed to have been delayed in favour of Christopher Nolan's The Prestige making its way here first. His role here as the committed, principled doctor is simply flawless. As a determined man with a cause, you'll believe his diligence to research and his sense of helping others. On the other hand, you pity his need to plough his emotions and channelling them all into his work as a means to escape intolerable truth.

Naomi Watts is luminous in her role as Kitty Fane, the wife seeking true love, and redemption. She brought out the naiveness of her role perfectly, and tries to find a sense of purpose in her life in the Far East. Her chemistry with Ed Norton is believable, and you'll struggle together with her as she stumbles time and time again seeking peace and forgiveness. Fans of Liev Schreiber shouldn't hold their breaths for the star's appearance, as it's very limited, and Anthony Wong has a rather bland, stoic role as a Chinese colonel.

As you would have seen in various publicity stills, and even the poster, there are plenty of bona fide picturesque locations in China used, bringing forth certain romanticism. The score recently received a nod for a nomination in the 2007 Golden Globes, and though beautiful, it seemed to rely more on the main piano theme at various points to elicit certain mood from the audience.

It's a story about the struggles of affairs of the heart, and the battle against an unseen enemy manifesting itself as a deadly disease, which comes with a tad predictable outcome, if not for the portrayals by the actors.

Movie Rating:

(The beauty of picturesque scenes in complete contrast to the ugliness of betrayal, an unconventional love story set to tug your heartstrings, with convincing performances by the leads Ed Norton and Naomi Watts)

Review by Stefan Shih


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