Painted Skin: The Resurrection – A Chinese Fantasy, a Female Fantasy

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1371898540_painted2bskin2bii2bposterMagic! Fighting! Romance! For those looking for fun female-centric fantasy films, Painted Skin: The Resurrection features esteemed actresses Zhao Wei and Zhou Xun as powerful women who have the ability to manipulate, kick ass, and make deep sacrifices for love. With a scarred princess and a fox demon in the forefront, this film is a live action fairytale, complete with a noble-hearted love interest, an adorable but deadly bird demon sidekick, a macabre sorcerer, and a comical demon hunter. The setting is in the Jianghu, a fantasy counterpart to Imperial China, where most wuxia stories take place. Wuxia is a Chinese folkloric literary genre of martial arts heroes who have exaggerated physical abilities. Certain aspects of films and shows like these can border on ridiculousness in Western eyes with its obvious wirework, green screen, and CGI. Nevertheless, it is what makes wuxia so magical and distinctive. I think that Painted Skin put its special effects budget in the right places, though it could do without some of the blue filters.

Chinese folklore holds a warm place in my heart, and this gorgeously produced film is a lovely continuation of a fox demon’s pursuit of humanity. Painted Skin 2 stands independently of its prequel, convenient, as Painted Skin 1 has yet to be put on Netflix. Xiaowei returns to a life of seducing and killing men for sustenance with Quer a young bird demon, after escaping her 500 year imprisonment in ice. Though she has the ability to consume the heart of any man she’d like, Xiaowei need one to be freely offered to her in order to become human. While fleeing from bandits, she encounters a golden-armored figure whose heart is hot enough melt magical ice.

Princess Jing defeats the attackers and takes Xiaowei as her companion. They ride to the White City, where Princess Jing’s teenage crush Huo Xin, guards the western border. A fake medicine seller with with an ancestry of demon hunters encounters Quer and tries to spread warnings of the danger. The princess meets with Huo Xin to drag out a confession of love, but his guilt for failing to protect her from a wild bear eight years prior prevents him from answering. Xiaowei convinces Princess Jing that his coldness was due her scarred face. The two women to switch skins for a night, and the fox demon tempts the lovelorn princess to give her heart away in exchange for a cursed beauty.

Zhao Wei’s portrayal of the fiery, pining princess is on par with Zhou Xun’s seductive and tragic character. Their chemistry carries the film where Chen Kun, who plays General Huo Xin, does not. The handsome object of desire is disappointingly two-dimensional, but he serves his purpose as the heroic vehicle of miscommunication. Pang Lang and Quer’s secondary love story was a charming way to explain the rules of demonhood. Though having a smaller role, Yang Mi does an exceptional job of fusing a sweet bird-like nature with the darkness of tearing beating hearts out of bodies. Feng Shaofeng’s comedic relief made for an entertaining character to aid the flow of plot points. The Tian Liang barbarians seem a caricature of a big bad enemy state with its surplus of skeleton furniture and fur-clad slaves. Their set design is impressive, but the spiderweb halo and bald sorcerer himself is rather overwrought in expressing the evils of black magic. That being said, I would have been interested in seeing more of the underused Tian Liang queen and delve into her complexities.

With strong, sympathetic performances by the ladies of the cast, it is no wonder Painted Skin: The Resurrection was such a hit in China. From scenery to the action sequences, this film is lavish and rich. This fantastic jianghu world explores relatable themes of artificial beauty, selfless and selfish love. If there were to be a jewel in a crown of wuxia chick flicks, this would be one of them.

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