A sweeping romantic epic, Painted Skin: The Resurrection is handsomely mounted and tastefully exuberant in its visual enhancements. It revolves around a bizarre love triangle involving a disfigured princess (Zhao Wei), a fox demon (Xiao Wei), and a stoic general (Chen Kun), with comic relief provided by the fox demon’s helper, a bird demon (Mini Yang) and a bumbling demon hunter (Feng Shao-Feng).
Strictly speaking, this is not my cup of tea; it’s more of a romance than an action-adventure. But for what it is, it’s incredibly well-done, and director Wuershan, who debuted with the successful action-comedy The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman, acquits himself quite well with a generally sober drama that aims to wring every possible turn out of its unrequited love angle. It does so gracefully, however, and with sufficient heart and sincerity that it avoid the pitfalls of the genre.
The film, a loose sequel of sorts to Gordon Chan’s 2008 Painted Skin, begins with the fox demon set free from 500 years of exile under ice, thanks to the bird demon. The fox demon must consume human hearts to sustain herself, and she has no problem doing so, as we see in an early scene with a would-be paramour. She crosses paths with the beautiful but sad Princess Jing, one of 14 daughters of the Emperor, but the only one who remains unwed, due to an accident in her youth that left her face disfigured. She now wears a small plate over that side of her face to cover her imperfection. The princess rules over a land on the edge of the empire and yearns for the love of General Hun Xao.
The General is assigned to protect the region, and it comes to light that he holds himself responsible for the disfigurement of the Princess in their youth. With that guilt hanging over him, he feels unworthy, and cannot bring himself to acknowledge his true feelings for the Princess. Meanwhile, the fox demon is hungry-hearted, too, but in a different sense. She wants to become human, but in order to do so, she needs a human to offer his or her heart willingly; then, during an upcoming eclipse (and only then), the exchange can take place. Adding to the time factor is the neighboring Tian Lan kingdom, which is ready to form a marriage alliance with the White City, i.e. the realm of the Princess, and threatens to march against it with a far superior force if its terms are not met.
Thus, we have unaccountable yearning, unrequited love, supernatural relations, and the looming threat of battle, all unfolding against magnificent backdrops of desolate landscapes, valleys, mountains, plateaus, and a gigantic moon. Everything meshes together well. The story develops at a magisterial pace with a minimum of action; what action is presented is nicely choreographed, but it’s icing on the romantic cake. And the forbidden love is nicely enhanced by a rare sense of heat from a Mainland production.
All in all, Painted Skin: The Resurrection is a rousing tale, blockbuster entertainment that is designed for wide appeal without insulting anyone’s intelligence.
The film is available in North America via WellGoUSA, which has released a DVD and Blu-ray. It’s also available via Netflix Watch Instantly streaming service.