Painted Skin (1993)

(Above, spirit You and the two Monks)

Painted Skin was King Hu’s last film before he died tragically due to complications from an elective surgery. I was told that many people did not like Painted Ski, however I disagree. I feel that Painted Skin was much better than Hu’s other ghost story, Legend of the Mountain.

To start off Hu sets up a wonderful feeling of mystery and suspense. By opening with a simple scene of musicians playing it establishes a nice easy going atmosphere. This atmosphere is quickly shifted to one of mystery and tension when Wang Hsi-Tzu orders a special bowl of dog meat noodles and is immediately encountered by a dog staring up at him. Fleeing in fear he stumbles into a beautiful woman, You, and tries to sleep with her.

From here the story spirals outwards and becomes rapidly complex. We are introduced to a demon king and an army that he controls, which You is fleeing from. Then something especially strange happens, the story shifts completely and almost changes into something entirely different when You begins to get help from some monks to free herself from the demon king’s power. This story transition is a bit strange looking back on it, the second half of the film seemed to feature a major shift in who the main characters were compared to the beginning. However while watching the film, this transition did not seem that strange and was well handled.

I enjoyed the costume design of the demons and the fireworks and effects used to give them an ethereal and creepy feel were well done. I think Painted Skin told an interesting story of supernatural battles and definitely reminded me of more western styled films focused on vampires or werewolves. I found myself particularly interested in learning more about Chinese Mythology and folklore thanks to the many references to various cultural things, like peach tree wood being a powerful charm .

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