Certain literary works, especially those that traffic in the fantastical, are best left on the page because they cannot be brought to cinematic life in a manner that remains true to their original spirit. Presumably, this is the case with Qing Dynasty author Pu Songling’s “Erotic Ghost Story,” a beloved work in Chinese culture, but nonetheless one that seems fully ridiculous as literally adapted in the new film “Painted Skin: The Resurrection.” How’s this for a premise: a “fox spirit” named Xiawei (Zhou Xun), who has been imprisoned under ice for 500 years (she was put there in the original “Painted Skin”) for breaking spirit rules by saving the lives of human beings, is finally broken out of her cell by a “bird demon” named Quer (Yang Mi). Xiawei must eat human hearts to survive — that is, until she is freely offered a heart, an experience that will magically transform her into a real woman.
There’s no doubt that this kind of dramatic adventure can be rousing when it exists entirely in a reader’s imagination or even as an animated film, in that its inherent absurdities are less prominent, but when enacted by real people, it proves difficult to take seriously. Making matters worse, screenwriters Ran Ping and Ran Jianan and director Wuershan effectively turn the non-action material into a soap opera, an overcomplicated and suffocatingly melodramatic affair that finds Xiawei involved in the romantic life of the emotionally and physically damaged human Princess Jing (Zhao Wei). Perhaps this would have worked if it had been approached partially as camp, much like the sparkly vampire skin and after-school special-like machinations of the first “Twilight” film were, but all the important story-points of “Painted Skin: The Resurrection” are intended to be taken seriously (which, ironically, results in just the opposite reaction from the audience). The actors do their best to hold things together–Zhou and Zhao’s performances are both a notch above for a fantasy picture–but their credible work goes to waste in a film that simply eludes credibility.
The visuals are generally nice to look at, though the CG effects are remarkably chintzy for a movie that is otherwise reflective of an aesthetically gifted filmmaker. (It’s peculiar that there were serious budgetary limitations on what turned out to be China’s top-grossing domestic production of all time.) An early CG shot of Quer in bird form pecking at the ice surrounding Ziawei verges on laughable in its cartoonishness. But there is still plenty of satisfying eye-candy on display, especially the painterly long shots and adroitly incorporated action overheads. Are these enough to overcome the dramatic faults of the film? Not even close, but they at least show that director Wuershan is not completely incompetent and could potentially have a good movie in his future if he seeks out better material.
Blu-Ray Video and Audio: The movie itself may not be great, but Well Go USA’s presentation of it certainly is. The digitally shot images are showcased via a crystal-clear transfer, with no nagging issues. Detail is good and colors are bright and robust. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack is equally satisfying, with clear dialogue, plenty of activity to give your sound system a workout during climactic scenes, and a well-balanced score.
Special Features: Not a lot present in this department. There’s a standard “Making of” documentary featuring cast and crew interviews that runs just under 25 minutes, plus the film’s theatrical trailer. There was room for a lot more on this 50GB disc, but not being a fan of the film, I was glad that Well Go didn’t include many extras so I didn’t have to screen them.
Movie Grade: D
Disc Grade: B
The Verdict: Skip it