This is not some silly game, this is life and death, angels and demons.


Never trust a demon. He has a hundred motives for anything he does … Ninety-nine of them, at least, are malevolent

Neil Gaiman, The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes

Painted Skin  (2008)
Fantasy,  Horror, Wixia, Wuxia Film
Written by
Gordon Chan,    Abe Kwong,   Lau Ho Leung
Directed by
Country of Origin
 Hong Kong  +  China
Running time
115 minutes

oh! … brief

An army general (Wang Sheng) rescues a woman (Xiaowei) during an attack on a Xiaongnu camp and returns homes with her. His loving wife (Peirong) welcomes Xiaowei into her home but later regrets the decision when she realises that Xiaowei is falling in love with her husband. Her estranged brother-in-law, having been missing for more than two year returns to the court.

There is much furore over the strange deaths occurring in the court, but none can convince General Wang Sheng that something extraordinary is at play.

oh! … talks film

This film is fantastical and well written. I’m not a huge fan of extreme fantasy but I did enjoy this one. And while it lists horror among its many genres, there is, very little horror to it!

The writing of the screenplay, which is loosely based on The Painted Skin short story by Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio collection is distinctively enjoyable.  The scenes, especially the wuxia chase and fight scenes are cleverly written, choreographed and captured on camera. Gordon Chan did a superb job in blending all creative aspects, including high-tech trickery and CGI. Films coming out of Hong Kong and China can be both plot-heavy and complicated to follow, fortunately, this isn’t one of them. The one criticism I have in the writing and filming of the story is that the ‘big reveal’ happens too early. To understand what the big reveal is, you’ll have to watch. The narration and translation to English are smooth, sometimes translation can be rough or too literal, not the case for this production.

The wuxia action scattered throughout was not excessive. In fact, I’d have liked to see more, but I’ve always been a wuxia fan. Also, if you cast Donnie Yen into any production, the audience will immediately assume that there is going to be countless kung-fu scenes. Sadly, this is not the case. In fact, more attention was placed on the female roles in this production than the males. The choreography was noteworthy and the cinematographer, Arthur Wong, captured all the action in detail. I was slightly more engrossed in the fight scenes than the flirtation.  In spite of my praise, the cinematography for the overall film could have been improved. I found the lighting dark and while a large portion of the activities takes place at night, I think some elements could have been played with to create better lighting.

The costumes were more muted than I expected. I believe Gordon Chan didn’t pay as much attention to those details, which was disappointing. I suspect however that his intent was not to make a stylish film, but a production for entertainment purposes and fun.

The musical score that accompanied this production by Ikuro Fujiwara is exquisite. Its grandeur doesn’t match the film, but I loved every score, particularly Painted Heart by Jane Zhang. And like so many others I have downloaded it and added it to my playlists.

Perhaps the saving grace for this production is the cast, including world-renowned Donnie Yen and Betty Sun.  Most of the actors and actresses brought this production to life, whether you enjoyed them in their role or not.

General Wang Sheng, played by Chen Kun, is the army general who replaces his wayward brother after he has a mental breakdown and disappears. He marries his brother’s former love. Chen Kun gently nudged the two sides of his character (skilled military master of battle and loyal husband) into being. His role was moderate and his acting was similarly balanced.

Pang Yong, brother to General Wang Sheng was played by Donnie Yen. Whatever led to his initial breakdown is not fully understood but his return to the court is timely. Donnie Yen’s acting was like someone suffering from bipolar disorder, either manic, flat, or far too comedic to be taken seriously. Most of the time Donnie Yen exaggerated his facial expressions and mixed them with rather hysterical outbursts making his performance more foolish than skilled. But he was funny to watch and added to the entertainment value of this production. He was obviously chosen first for his skill at kung fu/wuxia and not necessarily given proper direction in developing his character.

Peirong, the General’s wife, was played by the gorgeous Zhao Wei and she was truly amazing in her role. I especially relished the chemistry she had with Zhou Xun and the hostility which she barely conceals. She is gifted at using her acting skills to garner sympathy from the audience and at the same time balancing the sweet-natured wife with her emotionally conflicted superstition.

Xiaowei, the seductive miscreant was played by Zhou Xun and was the most complex of the characters. Of all the cast members, Zhou Xun demanded attention with her masterful delivering of the seductress. She inhabited her role, a fantastical one, and delivered a coy, flirtatious if somewhat obsessed quasi-human. I appreciated how she cleverly manipulated her character and used her beauty to highlight her innocence. She also shared the limelight with Zhao Wei when it came to chemistry. The two together were mesmerising.

oh! … sidekicks

Qi Yuwu played Xiaoyi, a fantastical creature that could not abandon his love, but, doesn’t realise that he is only needed to source the special food supply to keep his love happy and beautiful. Qi Yuwu was the cast member most involved in the wuxia scenes and while Donnie Yen is the obvious expert in that department, he did a fine job of matching Donnie Yen’s skills.

The other sidekick that deserves mention is of course none other than Xiabing played by the talented Betty Sun, who just so happens to be one of my favoured Chinese actresses. Playing a minor role in this production did not prevent Betty Sun from delivering a quaint performance.

oh! … that’s a wrap

This film is typical of a Chinese fantasy wuxia-styled story. You will either appreciate it for what it is or not, depending on your own sensibilities. The film presented ambiguous intrigue and frantic romance which was funnily successful given that there was excessive emoting and exaggerated acting at times.

I enjoyed this film enough to recommend it for its entertainment value but I warn you in advance to manage your expectations. I likely will watch it again and may consider adding it to my collection of classics.

You’ll enjoy this if you are a fan of any of the cast members and enjoy wuxia-styled fantasy romance genres.

oh! … tidbits

The story this film and other Painted Skin productions were based on, was originally titled “Huapi” and first appeared in Pu Songling’s anthology of supernatural tales, Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio (Liaozhai) in 1740.

The anthology was first translated into English as “The Painted Skin” by the British sinologist Herbert A. Giles and was included in his 1880 translation of Strange Tales.

The earliest film adaptation of the story was Huapi (1965) directed by Bao Feng.

In 1993, director King Hu produced his version of Painted Skin, starring Adam ChengJoey WongSammo HungLam Ching Ying, and Wu Ma.

Gordon Chan’s film was set in the late Qin dynasty or early Han dynasty.

In March 2011, a Chinese television series based on the film was aired in mainland China. Gordon Chan and his producers were involved in the production of the television series, with a revised script and different cast.

Hong Kong submitted Gordon Chan’s Painted Skin as their 2009 Oscars production.

The Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, a massive collection of Ancient Chinese stories, many covering supernatural subjects, have inspired countless film and television dramas.

Gordon Chan’s production broke US$14 million within the first days of its premiere.

The film and cast were nominated for at least 20 awards at various Asian film festivals and awards ceremonies. They won the following:

Best Film Score at the 10th Changchun Film Festival

Best Cinematography and Best Original Film Song at the 28th Hong Kong Film Awards

Best Actor (Chen Kun) at the 30th Hundred Flowers Awards

Best Actress in Motion Picture (Zhao Wei) at the 16th Spring Swallow Awards

Favourite Chinese Actress (Zhao Wei) at the 2nd Vietnam DAN Movie Awards

oh! … soundtrack

oh! … gallery

oh! … trailer

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