they are both based on Pu Songling’s short stories, but you would be hard
pressed to find many similarities between King Hu’s final film and the smash
hit Chinese cinema and television franchise of the same name. At least the
casting made sense when Zhou Xun succeeded Joey Wong as the supernatural femme
fatale with the detachable face. A foolish scholar will get more than he
bargained for when he takes in a mystery woman in King Hu’s Painted Skin, which screens
during BAM Cinématek’s retrospective, All Hail the King: the Films of King Hu.
Hsi-tzu realizes he might have stayed out too late drinking when he starts
seeing strange spectral visions on his way home. Nevertheless, he gets a sudden
dose of courage when he encounters You Feng. Moved by claims she was badly
abused by her husband’s first wife, Wang takes her into his household, much to
the annoyance of his own wife. He may have yet to pass an imperial exam, but even
Wang quickly realizes there is something a little off about You.
confronted by a charm provided by two Taoist priests, You admits she is a
ghost, trapped between worlds and held in thrall to the King of Yin and Yang.
Half ghost, half man, the evil king commands a death cult of similarly
in-between spirits. To escape his power, You will need more help than Wang can
provide, she sets off in the company of the two priests, to find a legendary
high priest, living a hermit like existence tending peach trees.
question, the first third of Painted is
by far the most effective. Hu defty creates an eerie nocturnal atmosphere and a
metaphysically scary villain. In contrast, the subsequent fantasy quest
sequences feel more conventional, even though he nicely conveys the notion that
the conflict is joined on both physical and spiritual levels. Still, the
conclusion is quite redemptive, in every sense.
Wong does not have the strongest reputation as a thesp, but when it comes to
looking like a doe-eyed lost little girl, she was tough to beat. Likewise, Wang
is a great role for Adam Cheng, giving him license to ham it up in two
directions. Even though his scenes do not have as much pop, there is no denying
Sammo Hung has the appropriate heft, so to speak, for the high priest.
Skin is a relatively minor
entry in Hu’s filmography, but it is still a consistently entertaining
supernatural wuxia fusion. Indeed, many of his prestigious filmmaker colleagues
have ended their careers on weaker codas. Recommended as a ghostly outing in
its own right and indispensible for BAM’s retrospective, Painted Skin screens this coming Tuesday (6/10) in Brooklyn, as
part of the perfectly named All Hail the
King film series.
Labels: Adam Cheng, BAM, Ghost movies, Hong Kong Cinema, Joey Wong, King Hu, Martial arts cinema, Sammo Hung