Thursday, January 29, 2009

Wa Pei (Painted Skin) (2008)
HONG KONG/CHINA --- horror

Dir: Gordon Chan

Well, to celebrate Chinese New Year, I thought I'd review a recent viewing of a Chinese film. Now before Japan was making the dark-haired woman ghost stories and spooky films involving technology, Asia in general always had animal spirit tales. Apparently the tradition goes back to the silent film era. The tale of this particular film, Wa Pei derives from a classic 18th century Chinese novel by Pu Songling, titled "Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio".

Wa Pei (Painted Skin) is one of these films at it's best. The story involves an army general named Wang Sheng who rescues a beautiful young woman from a bandit campsite. They have no idea that Xiao Wei (played by Xun Zhou) is in actuality a demonic Fox Spirit posing as a human. In Chinese belief, they are always believed to take form of a beautiful human. Once Wang Sheng takes her under his care, his wife Pei Rong (played by Wei Zhao) soon suspects something amiss about the beguiling young woman, and follows her own inquiries such as consorting the help of a taoist priest, who mysteriously ends up dead the following day. All of her subjects and soldiers have taking a liking to Xiao Wei, which leads Pei Rong to be convinced she is what she believes.

It isn't until prodigal ex-general Pang Yong (played by Donnie Yen) falls on his Brother's doorstep, that help arrives. Once awake he's off once again, but stops at an eatery where he runs into a tomboy who ups him on food and drink and so joins him for a meal. The plot thickens as a mysterious assassin, who in actuality is an assistant demon Lizard Spirit, working with Xiao Wei, has been ripping out the hearts of people around town. Pei Rong meets secretly with Pang Yong, desperately seeking his help in finding out if Xiao Wei is indeed a demon in disguise. He commits to her plan, and assist the help of the young stranger, Xia-Bing (played by newcomer Betty Sun) he's just been eating with.

Xia-Bing reveals herself to be of perfect assistance, as she's from a long line of Demon Busters, and has a history with this particular demon and the tools to destroy her. The following is more dramatic than anything, as the film reveals its love triangle tendencies. Xiao Wei wishes to become Wang Sheng's concubine, and begs of Pei Rong for this to happen. In the meantime, Pang Yong and Xia-Bing try to track down the Lizard Spirit and find proof of Xiao Wei's true demoniac nature.

For me, Wa Pei (Painted Skin), harkens back to such 90's fare as "The Bride with White Hair", "Green Snake", and the classic "A Chinese Ghost Story". Director Gordon Chan (of Fist of Legend fame), blends action, romance, and horror perfectly in this film. It's important to note that this story has been brought to screen before by director King Hu in 1993 and starred Joey Wong and action master Sammo Hung. I have to admit, the one thing I quite like about this one is the score, which at times sounds like "Nightmare on Elm Street" and then like Ennio Morricone's "Once Upon A Time in The West". This is going to be a classic for any Chinese horror movie fan.