Zhao Wei (left) and Zhou Xun strike a chord in Painted Skin.
PAINTED SKIN: THE RESURRECTION (Wuershan). 131 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (August 17). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NN
Steeped in folklore and presented in big, bright, broad strokes by Mongolian director Wuershan, Painted Skin: The Resurrection is China's homespun response to the American popcorn picture.
Currently the top-grossing domestic film in China, The Resurrection's Hollywood-scale epic quality has clearly struck a chord.
Zhou Xun reprises her role from 2008's Painted Skin as Xiaowei, an ancient fox spirit. Sprung from a glacial prison by a plucky bird demon (Yang Mi), she begins stealing hearts (literally) in order to maintain her bewitching, youthful beauty. She soon strikes a deal with the battle-scarred Princess Jing (Zhao Wei), who yearns to be reconciled with her true love, the warrior Huo Xin (Chen Kun).
As their fates become entangled, the demon and the princess engage in a deceitful battle of wits, allowing Wuershan to hit some resonant emotional notes. But the bloated blockbuster trappings bog the film down, and the high fantasy elements seem too silly. The action scenes swing between slow-motion and speed-ramping - cheesy effects pinched from Zack Snyder's auteur toolbox.
The fusion of sensuality, swordplay and demonology has wowed Chinese audiences. But the cultural specificity of the material leaves much of Resurrection's appeal lost in translation.