Sunday, November 30, 2008

Vamp or Not? Painted Skin

dvdI do like a bit of Chinese cinema and given that this 2008 Gordon Chan directed movie was a luscious looking film of epic proportions and supernatural in basis I would surely have gone out of my way to see it. However, blog matters first of all. When I saw the imdb synopsis “an action-thriller centered on a vampire-like woman who eats the skins and hearts of her lovers” then the film just had to be investigated. Is it Vamp… not really, but let’s see.

Out in the desert a General, Wang Sheng (Kun Chen), leads his men on a raid against bandits. In the main hut in the bandit village the leader has a girl, Xiao Wei (Xun Zhuo), all in furs (the fact they are white is significant). Before the raiders get to him it is obvious he has been killed by means unseen by the viewer due to camera angle. Wang rescues her and takes her back to the city. He tells his wife, Pei Rong (Wei Zhao), that Xiao Wei’s parents are dead.

Donnie Yeng as YongThe guards are out in force and there is a banging at the city door. A body lies outside the gates, presumably in a stupor, and is taken to Sheng’s home. It is Yong (Donnie Yeng) and in flashback we see that he was a general with phenomenal martial skills. However he did not wish to lead the men (plus Pei Rong chose, romantically, Shang over him) and left his commission to travel. Once he comes around he leaves the house.

Yong and Xia Bing team upHe goes to a restaurant where he meets Xia Bing (Betty Sun), a toy-boyish young woman. Pei Rong finds him and tells him that she fears that Xiao Wei is a demon. She seems to be able to charm people, Pei Rong accidentally cut her and she miraculously healed and a Taoist warned Pei Rong of the other woman’s nature and then immediately died. He was missing his heart and since Xaio Wei arrived there have been several murders were the hearts have been removed. Pei Rong begs Yong for his help.

Qi Yuwu as Wiao Yi the chameleon demonThe culprit is a chameleon demon, Xiao Yi (Qi Yuwu), who is taking the hearts. He is in love with Xiao Wei and knows that she needs to eat human hearts in order that her skin will not rot. For her part Xiao Wei is in love with Sheng and wants to be his new wife usurping the household. Indeed this film is less a horror or action movie, it is a romance that investigates several types of love through supernatural metaphor. Xiao Wei is a fox spirit.

Xun Zhuo as Xaio Wei the fox spiritNow we have come across fox spirits before. They have appeared in Mr Vampire 4 , for instance, where a Taoist was attacked by one who used seduction to undermine him. She was not, however, one of the kyonsi that primarily featured in the movie. The vampire in Amazing Stories was more western typed but the fox spirit in that actively attacked the vampire and defended the hero. There is, however, nothing to connect fox spirits with vampires per se. They are vamps, in one sense of the word, but not bloodsuckers.

removing her own skinThe reason this is called Painted Skin is due to the fact that the spirit can remove her skin to paint it, thus hiding any demon marks one assumes, and below the skin is an approximation of a human form made up of worms that crawl and squirm – it was a wonderful effect. Xiao Yi can become invisible, he is a chameleon after all, but sunlight will cause him to cast a shadow. He has a long lizard like tongue.

Pei Rong is cursedXia Bing is a demon hunter by familial trade and her Grandfather had actually taken fox spirit’s tail. She and Yong hunt the demons but things become sticky when Yong is framed for murder. Following this Xiao Wei reveals herself to Pei Rong and then manipulates her into drinking a demon poison that makes her white (and causes her to cry blood tears) and then she has to falsely confess that she was really the demon.

blood on the sword to hurt the demonIn the cumulative battle Xia Bing reveals that her family’s blood on a blade (as demon busters) can injure demons where a normal sword might not. This was reminiscent of the lore that appeared in the OAV anime Blood: the last vampire and the subsequent series Blood+ and yet I do not think that this adds to the argument that this could be vampire as the lore in the Blood animes is so obscure.

demon buster's swordFor instance, whilst this works, there is also a magic blade that Xia Bing finally gets to unsheathe during the battle – her own anger and hatred had prevented this before – and subsequently wield. Only she can use it, so it is much like her own blood being useful against the demons, though this leads to some nice disintegration and reintegration (of the blade) effects when it is passed to Yong and subsequently returned to Xia Bing.

releasing the 1000 year spiritAll in all I think there was a liberal use of the word vampire in the synopsis I quoted as there is nothing remotely vampiric about this film. It is, however, a rich, evocative movie that I thoroughly enjoyed. Not Vamp.

The imdb page is here and there is a homepage here.

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