If you were fortunate enough to have caught director Wuershan’s last big screen foray The Butcher, The Chef & The Swordsman, then you won’t be overly surprised at the scale of grandeur and ambition which infuses Painted Skin: Resurrection. In fact, armed with a degree of confidence that seemed lacking in his previous work, the Mongolian born director unleashes a tsunami of chaotic imagery and tempered poetry in this mythological period romance.
Following on from Gordon Chan’s 2008 original erotic fable Painted Skin, Wuershan’s Resurrection continues the Machiavellian saga of the Fox demon Xiaowei (once again bought to life by the intoxicating Zhou Xun who revels in her ambitious and tragic role) who, after having been imprisoned in ice for defying the gods and sparing the life of a mortal, is freed when the flirtatious Quer (played by the irrepressible Yang Mi), a naïve young bird demon becomes infatuated with the Fox demon’s ethereal beauty.
Finally free of her frozen prison, but fearful of retaliation by her captors, Xiaowei sheds any last remnant of empathy for the mortals and, accompanied by Quer, begins a cross country killing spree, feeding on human hearts in order to maintain her illusion of beauty and remain hidden from the gods. But as the body count stacks up and her presence becomes more difficult to obscure, Xiaowei begin a quest to find a soul freely willing to offer their heart in order for her to become completely human, putting her firmly beyond the reach of those who imprisoned her.
Enter the star-crossed lovers Princess Jing (Zhao Wei) and General Huo Xin (Chen Kun), whose budding teenage romance was shattered before it began when Hou, a brilliant young marksman tasked with protecting the Princess failed to stop a bear attack, leaving his ward disfigured. Shamed by his abject failure, Huo undertakes a self-imposed exile, retreating into China’s wilderness and taking station at a wasteland outpost
Princess Jing on the other hand, takes her rightful position at her father’s court, ordained in a golden ornate mask to hide the scars endured by the bear attack. But when she learns of her father’s plan to marry her off to the Chieftain of a primitive clan, Jing abandons her life in hopes of single handedly tracking down Hou in hopes of reconciliation.
As expected, Jing’s desperate search collides with the Xiaowei’s own macabre pursuits, allowing the Fox demon an opportunity to wreck some deceitful carnage on the emotions, and bodies of the would-be lovers after their eventual reunion. Further complicating matters, Hou and Jing must defend the tiny outpost against her father after a military force arrives to collect the Princess ahead of her betrothed Chieftain’s own viscous army of savages and priests, who plan to answer the insult of Jing’s rejection by marching against the kingdom.
While the core of Painted Skin: Resurrection is undoubtedly a classic romance with little in the way of originality, Wuershan makes fine use of his generous budget, utilising some impressive CGI and wire-work to insinuate a number of brilliantly realized action sequences into the film, including some of the finest horse-crashes your likely to witness anytime soon.
Unfortunately though, as a whole the film struggles to mesh these two aspects with any real cohesiveness, which is hindered further by an unnecessary third plotline involving Quer, the bird demon and a clueless demon hunter (Feng Shaofeng), which feels so forced as a comic relief device that it’s almost coarse in its distraction.
And for those interested in the 3D aspect of the films transfer, Wuershan can be praised for not succumbing to the gimmickry of the technology, instead allowing it to shine within the cinematography to elevate the scope of China’s majestic landscapes. And while the 3D does offer a slightly more immersive aspect to the the numerous action sequences and large scale battles that play out within the film, perhaps the use of 3D could have benefited from a less-is-more attitude.
Wuershan is undoubtedly an ambitious director who’s star is rising in the Chinese film industry, and while his latest foray offers all the right ingredients for a sprawling, grand romantic epic, with subtle nods to such diverse classics as Temple of Doom and Romeo & Juliette, his skills behind the camera still feel as if they need to mature, if only slightly. Thankfully though, his ensemble casts deliver such compelling performances that you can almost forgive the films flaws. Zhou Xun and Zhao Wei exuding an almost palpable screen presence that transcends their obvious beauty while Chen Kun delivers a broad rustic performance, encompassing everything a damaged hero ought to be.
Still, it’s hard not to be distracted by the film’s many disjointed subplots, each jarring against the others both tonally and thematically. Like his indulgence in utilising 3D, if Wuershan had adopted a less-is-more attitude, then Painted Skin: Resurrection could possibly have been the breathtaking fantasy epic it strived to be.