This one is a sequel (of sorts) to the 2008 hit ‘Painted Skin’, which I liked very much, and was of course a remake of an earlier Joey Wong classic. This time however, although many of the cast from the previous film remain – they are pretty much all in new roles, so consider this a new film altogether. It has been the massive hit of the Summer in China, so would I enjoy it, even though it has been filmed with the dreaded 3D (of course I only watched in 2D!!).
In ‘Painted Skin 2:The Resurrection” a Fox Demon (Zhou Xun) is rescued from 500 years being buried in ice (for daring to fall in love with a Human) by a young Bird Demon (Mini Yang). Together they move across ancient China, stealing the hearts (literally as well as emotionally) of men. Our Fox Demon though is still chased by the magic that cause her to freeze, until she meets a disfigured Warrior Princess (Zhao Wei), who is blessed with a heart of immense warmth. It turns out that the Princess is in love with one of her Guards (Chen Kun), who not only feels he is below her station, but also holds himself responsible for the disfigurement of her face. The Fox Demon sets a plan in motion to become human – as during a rare Eclipse, Humans and Demons can swap places. This would allow our Fox to become human and not only escape her freezing fate, but also finally feel human emotions. The Princess would be granted the body of the most beautiful woman in the world (and due to an enchantment he does feel physically drawn towards the outward appearance of the Fox), but she would then have to feast on Hearts and utterly lose her humanity. Not only that, but the Princess is to be married to a Prince of a vicious Wolf-worshipping Tribe to broker a peace. Also, the Bird Demon is initially intrigued and then falls for a rather hopeless Demon Hunter (Feng Shaofeng). Can all these people get their hearts desire? Or will there be tragedy on the way?
Got all that? Actually, it is not too complex a plot, and the film actually manoeuvres at quite a leisurely pace to ensure all the main characters not only get screen time, but that their backstory is sufficiently revealed. Maybe it takes a little time to get going (mostly because of interminable opening credits listing more Producers of various types than I have seen in an Asian film ever), but once we have met all our main players, the film certainly captures the viewers imagination.
Zhou Xun was born to play these kinds of roles, the manipulative and beautiful Demon, but here I have to say she also bought her acting A-game. Despite her obvious selfish and evil intent, her character is surprisingly sympathetic, and Xun gives the character a tenderness from the start that is somewhat unusual. Add to this the excellent moments when she has swapped skins with the Princess, then we have a performance that pretty much owns the film.
It is not all about Zhou Xun though. Zhao Wei adds another strong Warrior Princess to her CV, managing to be both regal and powerful when needed, but also in her private moments someone utterly in love and depressed about the fact she does not feel beautiful. Chen Kun is not an actor I have a huge amount of time for (handsome but dull), and whilst he doesn’t really raise the film, he is relatively harmless. The real charm comes from Mini Yang (who is suddenly in every film I see this year) who is utterly delightful as a very different kind of Demon, and all the scenes which she shares with Feng Shaofeng are adorable and amusing).
Director Wuershan puts together a real mix of genres together reasonably well, sensibly toning back the more stylistic direction of his previous film, to allow the acting and the story to take centre stage. The film is capable of being outrageously sexy (admit it, you’ve seen the pictures of our leads bathing together) as well as melodramatic. The parts of the film that are obviously made for 3D are possibly less successful, as they don’t seem quite connected to the rest of the film visually, but it is not horrible. The special effects are mostly well done, and the film balances the fantasy and more horrific elements in an attractive manner. Of course, being Chinese, there are times when you thing the horror aspects could have gone a tiny bit further, but I was not too put off by this.
It is not perfect though. The Bad guys appear far too late in the film, and are a little too pantomime for my liking. On the other hand, there is a delicious switch in the conclusion that plays back to an early moment in the film, which I really did not see coming, and is frankly brilliant. I just wish it had happened a little earlier so the climax could have been just a little longer. There is also a scene where Chen Kun fights the best that the Wolf Tribe have to offer, which is not particularly easy to work out quite what is going on, and doesn’t really fit with the feel of the rest of the movie. The score on the whole is unobtrusive and suitable, except for this one scene where is goes all a bit screaming guitars, and just seems as though was lifted from another movie altogether.
On the whole though, this was a huge amount of fun, with some excellent performances, and most importantly has a real amount of depth about it. Yes, of course it is a Blockbuster movie, so there is an amount of cynicism here, and it is far too long in terms of running time. But if you compare it to “The Four”, you will see that China can still put out an exciting and interesting big budget Fantasy Action Film, that not only entertains, but is also full of heart. Highly Recommended.