Featured DVD / Blu-ray Review: Painted Skin: Resurrection
November 11th, 2012
Painted Skin was released in its native China and was a huge hit with moviegoers, critics, and was even a success during Awards Season in that part of the world. Painted Skin: Resurrection reportedly cost $24 million and earned over $100 million internationally. On the other hand, when it was released in limited release here, it barely made a noise. This week it is coming out on DVD and Blu-ray, but will it find a receptive audience? Or is there just too much of a cultural divide between here and China?
The film begins with a prologue in which we are told about a demon fox, who was imprisoned in a coffin of ice (more like a glacier) after she fell in love with a human man. A bird demon became infatuated with her beauty and flew over her icy prison every day. When it pecked at the ice, she was freed from her prison. When she and the bird flee, the ice chases her.
After the credits, we catch up with the fox demon, Xiaowei, who is traveling with her sister, the bird demon, Quer, looking for a man who would willingly give her his heart. She needs to do this before the solar eclipse in order to become mortal. The Quer tells her that her whole flock will look for that man. Next thing we see, it is a month later and Xiaowei is being chased by four men on horseback. (If the man refuses to give his heart willingly, she eats his heart.) Fortunately, she is rescued by a masked rider, who we later learn is Princess Jing, although we don't learn that until after the Fox first tries to flirt with 'him' and then commands a scorpion to kill 'him' after 'he' refused. Fortunately she survives the sting, but when the Quer removes the mask from the unconscious Jing, she recoils at the scar.
When Princess Jing and Xiaowei travel to a border city, Princess Jing meets with General Huo Xin, and given his reaction, he is not happy about it. We quickly learn through flashbacks how Jing got her scar and that Huo Xin was supposed to be guarding her at the time. However, it's more complicated than a guard screwing up his guard duty. Jing ran off after Huo Xin refused to say he loved her. He did love her, and still does, but it wasn't his place to say so. After all, he was just a guard, while she was royalty. He still thinks this way, so despite Princess Jing loving him, he refuses to be with her. This gives Xiaowei an opportunity, as she thinks Huo Xin is the man whose heart she needs.
While we get this information piece by piece, we also see that Xiaowei has her eyes on General Huo, which of course makes Princess Jing jealous. We also meet Pang Lang (Feng Shaofeng), a medicine man Demon Hunter, who is more or less a joke. However, while his medicines are fake, he does a demon capture bottle, which can detect demons. So when Xiaowei arrives in the city, he tries to alert General Huo about the demon. Quer sees him rebuked at the gate and decides to investigate, and most likely eliminate him. Instead, she is accosted by two men, and it is the Pang Lang who steps in to save her. Granted, she can take care of herself, while the Pang Lang can only injure his attackers by dumb luck. Fortunately for him, after Quer kills one of the attackers, he leaves him alive. Later she thanks him for defending her, by giving him a bug in his meal.
Finally, we look into the Tian Lang capital, where the Queen (Chen Tingjia) lives. Princess Jing was spoted in the border town with General Huo by one of Tian Lang's scouts. The obvious implication is that their nation is planning an attack against Tian Lang and the Queen plans to defend her nation, preemptively.
This movie is a little confusing. I get the impression that I'm missing some of the mythology there. I was like someone watching a movie about vampires for the first time. There are some aspects of vampire myth that are so common, turning into a bat, that we take for granted. There are some other parts, like the arithmomania, that would confuse a lot of hardcore vampire fans. (In some folklore, vampires suffer from arithmomania, a compulsion to count items, especially mustard seeds. So as protection, people would throw mustard seeds on their roofs and any vampire that came along would be forced to count the mustard seeds, even if the sun was rising.) I know only a very little about Chinese myths involving demons and some of the parts of the film were strange enough that went well beyond my limited understanding. Fortunately, despite this, I was willing to go along with the film, because the rest of it worked. I was willing to suspend belief.
Painted Skin: Resurrection has an epic fantasy feel that will draw in fans of the genre. Nearly everything works, from the romance and the more emotionally weighty moments, to the action and fighting scenes, to the humorous scenes. The performances by Zhou Xun and Vicki Zhao were major assets and thanks to their performances, you almost had to root for both of them to succeed in winning the heart of General Huo. The action is a lesser part of this film than it is in a lot of similar films, but when we do see fighting, it is very well done. Finally, Quer and Pang Lang are hilarious. I love how when she gave him a bug in his food, she acted like a cat that just gave its master a dead mouse. Or how she became agitated when she learned she wasn't important enough to be in Pang's Almanac of Demons. I immediately wanted to see her in more movies.
Not everything worked. Late in the movie, General Huo stands alone against the forces of Tian Lang when one of his fellow guards, Bao, joins the fight and sacrifices himself to safe his friend. It was played as this great emotional moment; however, Bao had maybe two lines an hour previously, and that was the only time he talked the entire film. It is hard to get emotional about the death of a character we didn't know. It's a minor complaint.
The only extra on the DVD is a 24-minute making of featurette. I don't have the Blu-ray to compare, but given the visual nature of the film, especially since it is nearly $1 cheaper than the DVD is on Amazon.com.
Painted Skin: Resurrection is an amazing movie. I'm not surprised it made more than $100 million internationally and hopefully it will find an audience on the home market here. Neither the DVD nor the Blu-ray have a lot of extras, but they are still worth picking up, with the latter being the better deal.
- Submitted by: C.S.Strowbridge
Filed under: Video Review, Hua Pi 2