Painted Skin (HK 1992)

Rating: **
Review Date: 5/7/12
Director: King Hu
Cast: Joey Wang, Adam Cheng, Samo Hung, Wu Ma, Shun Lau, cameo by Lam Ching Ying

You Feng (Joey Wang) is a half-human/half-ghost who is trapped in the Yin/Yang world that exists between Heaven and Hell. Trying to escape from the cruel Yin/Yang King, she runs into the lascivious and disreputable Scholar Wang (Adam Cheng), who decides to bring her home and make her his concubine. When his wife discovers that Feng isn't human, the shock knocks her unconscious and Wang seeks the help of a Taoist exorcist to make Feng go away. Unfortunately, Yin/Yang King is too much for Taoists Shun Lau and Wu Ma to handle, so they take Feng with them to seek out their master, the high monk (Samo Hung). Meanwhile, Yin/Yang King enters the human world by possessing Wang's body, and causes all sorts of trouble in his ruthless search for Feng. Samo finally defeats the evil spirit and allows Feng to travel to Hell at the cost of his peach orchard.

King Hu's final film is beautifully shot, but a narrative mess. The editing is a nonsensical nightmare and the film comes across as being a rush job of incomplete footage. The script jumps all over the place with no clear sense of direction, scenes are cut together with no respect for continuity or narrative flow, the film goes from black and white to color and back again for no apparent reason, flashbacks occur without any indication, weather changes between scenes, and random bits are thrown in that seemingly bear no relevance to the story. One of the most baffling moments is when the possessed Wang tries to rape his wife and then kills her, only to have her show up alive and with child at the end of the film. Huh? Because of all this, the film can be hard to watch and very difficult to follow, which is unfortunate. The production values are excellent and the film looks great, with rich colors and textures, and a hefty amount of fog and smoke to create a thick and oppressive atmosphere. Unlike so many other Chinese ghost stories, this one has no humor or romantic angle, and is a straight-up supernatural horror tale. Feng isn't out to hurt anyone, but she's not someone that you'd necessarily want to keep in your company. Especially when she has to pull off her face and repaint it every so often in order to appear human. For such a star-studded cast, the acting is surprisingly flat and uninspired, and the action scenes are sluggish and uninteresting. The whole thing feels tired and worn out, and so do the characters. Despite the serious tone and mature treatment of the material, it fails to be engaging or entertaining, and offers nothing new to the genre.