Monday, August 13, 2012

Painted Skin: The Resurrection—Prepare to Lose Your Heart

Can you have sympathy for a demon like Xiao Wei?  You might if she looked like Zhou Xun.  Her story is indeed a tragic one, rooted in heartaches past.  Nonetheless, as a fox demon, she must constantly consume human hearts.  Still, she yearns to become human herself in Wuershan’s wuxia paranormal romance Painted Skin: The Resurrection (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Those who have not seen the previous Painted Skin (or King Hu’s prior adaptation of the Pu Songling story) should not be concerned.  The sequel is practically a complete reboot.  Xiao Wei is doing her thing once again, tearing men’s hearts out (literally), with only the bird demon Quer for companionship.  As she preys on powerful men, she hopes in vain someone will willingly and knowingly offer theirs up to her, so that she may become human again.  The clock is ticking though.  A looming solar eclipse may spell the end of her.

Suddenly deliverance might have arrived in an unlikely form, when a warrior with a smoldering heart “rescues” Xiao Wei from marauders.  However, this is no hero—this is the Princess Jing, masking herself to hide the scars she received in a rather nasty teenaged encounter with a bear.  General Hou Xin blames himself for that incident.  He also still harbors a forbidden love for the Princess he failed, which she reciprocates.  Yet, even the true blue palace guard is no match for a fox demon’s bewitchments, setting the stage for a supernatural love triangle.  Meanwhile, the rival Tian Liang clan is making threatening noise.  Unfortunately, the Princess and her General are distracted by the agitation caused by Xiao Wei’s presence.  That’s what happens when you have a demon in your midst.

Then again, Xiao Wei is not really the villain in this story.  Her yearning to live is somewhat akin to Larry Talbot’s search for the secret of death in the classic Universal Wolfman films, except Zhou Xun is obviously no Lon Chaney, Jr. to look at, not by a long shot.  As Quer the bird demon Mi (Mini) Yang is also cute as a button.  In fact, she develops some surprisingly sweet romantic chemistry with Pang, an unprepossessing demon hunter, by virtue of his bloodline.  It is a surprisingly appealing turn by Feng Shaofeng, evolving from somewhat cringy comic relief into a legit secondary hero.

For a special effects-laden tale of demons and swordplay, Resurrection has unexpected depth of feeling and a third act reversal that works quite well, at least before Wuershan resorts to the Harry Potter-esque thunder-and-wrath climax.  The real fireworks involve the two alluring co-leads.  Blessed with an extraordinary expressiveness (check her out in Equation of Love and Death, if you can), Zhou renders the fox demon as a fully dimensional, deeply tragic figure.  Though Zhao Wei occasional flirts with melodramatic excess, as Princess Jing, she effectively expresses romantic longing while totally rocking the Phantom of the Opera-style mask.  Chen Kun’s Hou broods and pines well enough, while Yang and Feng consistently inject energy and verve into the proceedings.  Unfortunately, the evil Tians are not well defined, though Chen Tincha and Fei “Kris Phillips” Xiang certainly look menacing as the dastardly clan princess and sorcerer, respectively.

Featuring several dangerous women, a few men who are a bit slow on the uptake, and a whole lot of frustrated ardor, Resurrection is a far better date movie than most wuxia epics.  It is also a great showcase for Zhou.  Recommended for her fans and those who appreciate big, dark uncanny spectacles with a strong human element, Painted Skin: The Resurrection opens this Friday (8/17) in New York at the AMC Empire and in San Francisco at the AMC Metreon and Cupertino.