Published Aug 16, 2012When has striking a deal with a demon ever turned out well? At least cautionary fables about attempting to mask insecurities by supernatural means often result in entertaining stories.
Chinese mythological epic Painted Skin: The Resurrection applies a decidedly bombastic veneer to a story familiar in some form to cultures around the globe, even if the presentation of surface details is unique to Chinese folklore.
A fox demon (Xun Zhou), imprisoned in ice for 500 years for breaking demon law by saving a mortal man, is freed by a bird demon enchanted with her frigid beauty. Appearing as two lovely young women, the demonic duo are literal heart-stealers, preying on horny travellers for sustenance.
Their path crosses that of the Princess (Wei Zhao), who has an unusually hot heart. Yes, she's a passionate lady – this is a film where every broad emotion is literalized.
The lovesick Princess, mistaking General Huo's steadfast resolve to his duty for disinterest due to a minor disfigurement inflicted upon her by a giant bear while under his protection, falls for the fox demon's insidious assertion that men care only for beauty. The result of their bargaining one-ups Face/Off, with a full epidermis swap, depicted quite artfully.
Between the broad pillars of the film's maudlin "love is pain" message, the contention that everyone wants to be something they're not, shallow view on how beauty can be perceived and mile-wide plot holes, Painted Skin revels in its aesthetic. While the special effects, although not exceptional, are usually serviceable, especially considering the scale and ambition, it's the picture's opulent art design that stands out.
Action scenes, though clearly framed and choreographed, are too reliant on slow motion and speed ramping to achieve an inflated impression of importance. This level of stylization never demands realism, making certain sloppily rendered effects easier to swallow, but even the film's visual standards are compromised by bizarre tonal inconsistencies.
Substituting limb-rending brutality and operatic drama for the fluid, physics-distorting grace of similarly themed Japanese offerings, director Wuershan could stand to learn a few things about subtly within the fantastic. (Well Go USA)