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Ludicrous 'Painted Skin'

Content based on classic Chinese ghost stories have been used and reused throughout contemporary films that rely on commendable action sequences and clichéd romantic storylines to keep them afloat at the box office.

“Painted Skin: The Resurrection” stands out by setting records both in mainland China and Taiwan for the biggest opening for a local film. The 130-minute action-fantasy-romance grossed US$47.3 million on 6.65 million admissions over four days in China. An unofficial sequel to the first “Painted Skin,” Wu Er-shan's (烏爾善) “Painted Skin: The Resurrection” is poised to report substantial revenue in Taiwan theaters as well.

While the movie does well businesswise, the bigger the expectations, the harder they fall; many scenes fail discouragingly to match Wu Er-shan's other films in story and quality, if not being outright ludicrous. Since this revamped story is carried by four powerful women, it will divide audiences particularly along gender lines, having greater appeal for female viewers because it is fundamentally a love story with a noble hero. The film will likely further split opinions of audiences because of its unique Twilight-like situation of making money through a corny "Romeo and Juliet"-based plot.

The movie revolves around Princess Jing and her royal bodyguard General Huo Xin. Pieced together in flashbacks set before the actual story, Jing was injured by a bear when she was out with Huo Xin, which resulted in the guard banishing himself to a faraway post.

Jing crosses China in the years that follow to find Huo Xin after coming to realize her love for him. Though Huo Xin recognizes that his status will never allow them to marry, Huo Xin still fights against his better judgment in subtle moves to communicate his love for her as well. Mistakenly feeling rebuffed by Huo Xin for her scars, the aching princess turns for help to the maliciously intended fox demon Xiaowei, who proposes they swap faces and bodies, at the price of taking possession of Jing's heart.

Between Princess Jing, the fox spirit Xiaowei, the cute but powerful bird demon and the fur-clad barbarian princess, all of the women will leave striking images for audiences. Performances run surprisingly deep and the bond that links Princess Jing and fox demon Xiaowei perhaps shows some sign of expertise in the scripting compared to weaker elements of the story such as the awkwardly placed side romance of bird demon Quer and a clumsy demon expert.

Women will certainly identify with much of the film: selfish and selfless love, willingness to risk everything for love, fighting off rivals for a man's affection, and the frantic search for youth and beauty to capture his heart.

While the core of “Painted Skin: The Resurrection” is undoubtedly a classic romance tale with little originality, Wu Er-shan makes good use of his budget with CGI to integrate brilliantly eye-opening action sequences and augmented visuals. ■

'Painted Skin: The Resurrection' (轉生術) ► Directed by Wu Er-shan / With Xun Zhou, Kun Chen and Wei Zhao / Fantasy / 2011 / China / 132 min/ Mandarin with Chinese subtitles / ★★★☆☆/ Now Showing

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Fox demon Xiaowei seduces Princess Jing's lover in an elaborate plan to obtain her. (Courtesy of Huayi Brothers Media Corporation)

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