Director: Wu Ershan
Writer: James Yuen Sai Sang, Wang Yuan Yuan
Producer: Chen Kuo Fu, Wang Zhong Lei
Cast: Zhou Xun, Chen Kun, Vicky Zhao Wei, Yang Mi, William Feng Shao Feng, Bei Cheung
Running Time: 135 min.
“Painted Skin: The Resurrection” was an easy movie for sites like ours to cover since every trailer released for the film looked even more beautiful than the last. Yet I doubt many critics expected “Painted Skin 2” to go on to become the highest-grossing movie of all time at the Chinese box office. Over there, “The Resurrection” was released in 3D; here in North America we’ll have to make due with its 2D iteration. Even without the added dimension, this is a sprawling, beautiful mess of a movie. The story unfolds with all the logic of a fever dream but it’s filled with as much eye candy as one too.
There’s been some speculation about whether or not Western audiences will be able to follow the plot of “The Resurrection” since it is very much rooted in Chinese folklore. This is a mythic tale where fox-demons feast on beating hearts and characters trade faces on a whim. While I’m not sure if I ‘followed’ the story, I thoroughly enjoyed myself the entire way through. After watching countless historical epics that strive for realism, it’s refreshing to see a Chinese-language film more reminiscent of the free-wheeling, special FX-infused Hong Kong staples like “A Chinese Ghost Story” or “Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain.”
Director Wuershan is ably in command here, recovering from the scattershot nature of his directorial debut “The Butcher, The Chef and the Swordsman.” Wuershan’s comes from a background in TV commercials, which is perhaps why his first film made me feel like I was channel-surfing as I watched it. In “Painted Skin,” the filmmaker displays a much tighter control on the film’s visuals and mood. And during quieter moments, the camera actually settles down long enough to showcase Wuershan’s cast.
The scenes in which Zhou Xun (“Cloud Atlas”) and Wei Zhao (“So Close”) play opposite each other are particularly well-acted. Their relationship is at the heart of the movie and it’s not a simple antagonistic one. Rather, there is a subtle game of manipulation occurring here as these two lovely ladies vie for the other’s close-kept possessions: in Xun’s case it’s her beauty, in Zhao’s case it’s her mortal heart.
Viewers craving nonstop action may be disappointed by “Painted Skin 2” as fight sequences are memorable but occur infrequently. Regardless, “The Resurrection” features enough pastel-colored landscapes and gorgeous costumes to rival any Hollywood production. The computer effects are way above average for an Eastern fantasy, putting movies like “The Storm Warriors” to shame. Some renders may not look completely realistic, such as the giant black bear that attacks in a forest, but the story takes place in an abstract fantasy land – realism isn’t a necessity.
My eye was drawn in from the opening scene of Zhou Xun trapped in her icy blue prison. Legendary concept artist Yoshitaka Amano (“Final Fantasy” series) lent his designs to “Painted Skin” and there are times when the film looks like one of his drawings come to life. I honestly don’t think I could pay the movie, or director Wuershan, a higher compliment than that.
“The Resurrection” may be a bit scattershot from a narrative standpoint but it’s destined to go down as one of 2012’s most visually spectacular films. Wuershan’s pop-fantasy confection is likely to delight viewers in search of good old-fashioned escapism.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 8/10