Painted Skin (2008)

Reviewed by: Hyomil
Date: 04/07/2011

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 04/11/2009

“Painted Skin” is a horror movie unless it is a romantic drama with elements of the supernatural, although it could be an updated wuxia since it is based on the “Strange Tales of Liaozhai”. It begins as a sword fighting drama and ends as a mismatched buddy movie and has plenty of deathless love, not always unsuccessful attempts at comedy and more angst than a graduate seminar on existentialism. “Painted Skin” is a mess.

It had too many characters and tried to develop too many stories. Vicki Zhao Wei as the fiercely loyal Peirong had the only character that changed much and she made the most of it. She gets more gorgeous with each passing year. Zhou Xun, the fox spirit (whose character was called Xiaowei for some reason—it seems very close to the sound of Zhao Wei to these gweilo ears)—has an arresting screen presence but doesn’t (yet) have the show-stopping star quality that this character needed, at least as interpreted by director Gordon Chan. Wang Sheng (Chen Kun) and most of the men in his command were in her thrall and willing to ignore that a fearful evil entered their formerly peaceful town at the same time she did. Xiaowei should be as effortlessly enticing as Delilah, Turandot or Helen of Troy. While her world was smaller than that of the other fictional bad girls she was no less in command of the men in it. Brigitte Lin, Greta Garbo or Barbara Stanwyk seemed effortless as women with unquestioned power (supernatural or otherwise) over men. Zhou Xun isn’t there yet.

Chen Kun is one of the most beautiful males currently appearing in films. His character was almost impossibly noble, telling Xiaowei that even though he loved her he was still fully committed to Peirong, something that would never change. He was courageous, inspired loyalty among his men and ruled the town with a light but effective hand—perfect in every way.

Donnie Yen is Pang Yong. When we first encounter him he has sprinted ahead of the detachment he commands in order to close with the enemy. He cuts through an opposing battalion by himself—one move is especially effective but would take superhuman strength and speed so he is clearly the guy for it. Pang Yong leaps straight up and spins, holding his sword out to slash the surrounding soldiers. He not only has the energy to spin a few times on one leap but is able to keep his blade from getting stuck in any of the bone, viscera and armor that it is slicing through. Pang Yong is paired with demon hunter Xia Bing, the delightful Betty Sun Li, an actress of whom I would like to see much more. One could imagine a series of movies built around her tough as nails but not always effective ghost buster.

The writers hadn’t much control over their material. It was as if Shakespeare sat down to writer “Romeo and Juliet”, decided to end it with the last scene from “Hamlet” and then bring everyone back to life before Fortinbras showed up. The domestic drama scenes really dragged—Peirong wondering if Wang Sheng still loved her and if he would continue to do so; Xiaowei wondering if she could force Wang Sheng to love her; the fly eating demon’s desperate longing for Xiaowei; Xia Bing’s infatuation with Pang Yong who might still harbor a secret love for Peirong but who is really only interested in killing demons and getting out of town.

The set design and costume design had a muted palette of blues and earth tones so that when a character appeared in a white dress or cried red tears those colors really stood out. The endless desert vistas, incredibly detailed set constructed for the town and the to die for interiors, somehow both sparse and sumptuous, looked great and blended well although artistry and craftsmanship on that level are expected in big budget Hong Kong movies.

Very much in favor of “Painted Skin” is its lack of pretension—the fate of the world is not at stake nor does the unification of China depend on the outcome of one battle. The town will never be more than an isolated desert outpost, a fort in the middle of nowhere manned by soldiers who slaughter bandits and harass barbarian advance guards. Whatever the outcome of familial drama they will have to saddle up and look for enemies again.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: Gaijin84
Date: 03/09/2009
Summary: Ho hum affair...

An army led by General Wang Sheng (Chen Kun) comes across Xiaowei (Zhou Xun), a young woman who is being held by a group of bandits. After slaughtering the kidnappers, Wang takes Xiaowei into his home to protect her. When people in the surrounding town start being murdered and their hearts removed, Wang's wife (Vicki Zhao) starts to suspect Xiaowei is somehow involved. Meanwhile Pang Yong (Donnie Yen), the former leader of the army arrives back in town, drunk but content with his life as a wanderer with no obligations. He befriends a young woman (Betty Sun) who turns out to be from a family with a long history of hunting down demons and eradicating them. After witnessing a murder, the two set off to vanquish the demon.

Painted Skin isn't necessarily a bad movie, it just fails to capture your interest for more than 10 minutes at a time. Donnie Yen is by far the highlight of the movie, with acting that is quite funny and a charming character. Of course he is rarely matched in his action scenes. Unfortunately you can figure out what is going to happen almost immediately and you keep hoping that the scenes will be good enough to keep you interest throughout. The action scenes are a bit too wire-driven and heavily edited to the point that its quite hard to follow. Zhou Xun and Vicki Zhao are perfectly fine, but their characters have been played hundreds of times and they didn't bring much other than good looks to the table. Betty Sun's character is cute, but again it's material that has been done before. For the most part the movie just didn't feel like an exploration of anything new, but simply a rehash of ideas that we've all seen before.


Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 12/27/2008

Hong Kong's official Oscar entry for 2008, Painted Skin, is a big huge mess of a film. Like many of the classics from the golden age, it tries to throw a bit of everything at the viewer.

But, unlike the top movies from Hong Kong, not every genre or style seems to fit in here, and the end result is something that is a bit muddling and badly paced. However, when it works, Painted Skin is quite a fun movie, and that's why it warrants a watching for fans of modern Hong Kong cinema.

Helmed by Hong Kong veteran Gordon Chan, and based on a renowned Chinese novel, Painted Skin tells the story of General Yong (Donnie Yen), a fierce warrior who leaves the service of his commander, Wang Sheng (Aloys Chen) after a particularly bloody battle. Some years later, Wang saves a beautiful woman named Xiaowei (Zhao Xun) during a campaign and brings her back to live at his palace.

Everyone seems to fall in love with Xiaowei, but Wang's wife, Peirong (Vicky Zhao), begins to suspect something's not right with her new guest, and so she heads off to coax her former lover Yong, along with a feisty "demon buster" (Qi Yuwu), to try and kill the evil spirit now occupying her town.

This sort of plot might seem way "out there" by some, but, of course, to seasoned Hong Kong movie fans, it fits right in with what might be construed as a logical and plausible story. Combined with Gordon Chan's penchant for turning the ordinary into something extraordinary (i.e., 2000 A.D.) one might think that Painted Skin could be something very special.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. Normally, even with his lesser efforts, Gordon Chan can be counted on to deliver a very technically competent film. But the editing style employed here, which over-uses fade-outs going into fade-ins, gives Painted Skin the look and feel of an incomplete movie.

Even though Gordon Chan throws a lot of expository scenes at the viewer, they (and the film as a whole) never really seems to gel as a cohesive unit. There's lots of cool-looking shit here -- which is probably why the trailer for this movie looks incredible -- but there's really nothing behind it.

Despite this, if you can forgive the hollowness of Painted Skin, then it actually develops into what might be construed as a great movie in points. At times, the characters are quite engaging, the acting is solid, and the action is exciting, if a bit cheesy.

It's just too bad that none of these elements really seem to fire up together at the right times -- and that is ultimately why Painted Skin is merely a good film instead of a great one.

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: dalvin
Date: 12/14/2008
Summary: It should have been better

I don't know where to begin, while not a bad movie, far from it, something was off in the pacing. By the end of the film, I felt as though I had sat through a 2 hour movie. It speeds through at certain points and moves too slow at other times. The movie never seems to find its pace.

This movie does a lot of things well, decent acting(Donnie Yen is constantly getting better), a few decently staged fights, and a couple of tug at your heart moments. But, it does a few things wrong. I mentioned the pacing, this movie, at heart, wants to be a suspense thriller. In order to do that, it must thrill the viewer at some point in the film. This movie is ridiculously obvious, and that hurts this movie. If the movie is going to be a thrilling, fantasy, suspense mystery, it shouldn't give away the plot too early. The movie at certain points drags on and tends to try too many things on screen at once with it's plot.

It also seems as though they were trying to make a great movie, nothing wrong with that, but when you watch a movie and the actors seem like they're trying, then it can hurt a movie.

By the end of this movie, I never felt satisfied enough, I only felt like I watched a 2 hour movie. I know the movie is two hours, but I don't want to notice the time, I just want to enjoy the movie.

I did enjoy the movie, just not as much as I could have.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 12/08/2008

A fox spirit who needs to consume human hearts to maintain her form becomes smitten with a general, and infiltrates his home - to the distress of his wife, who suspects her love rival might be a bit non-human.

A refreshing change from the spate of HK-China big battle epics, having the same luscious production values but being something of a nod to films such as A CHINESE GHOST STORY and BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR in content (though somewhere between the two trends in style).

The story is quite enjoyable, though it arguably gives away too much, too soon, and doesn't have quite the emotional impact it might have had. Acting is uniformly good (even Donnie), there's some pretty cool wired up action from Tung Wai, and it all looks very pretty. Sure to pick up nominations in numerous categories, if not awards.

Reviewer Score: 7