King Hu directs Tsui Hark stuff
Jean-Francois Virey | 59500 DOUAI France | 03/21/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"King Hu (1932-1997) is my favorite director, and I consider at least three of his movies (*Touch of Zen*, *Raining in the Mountain* and *The Fate of Lee Khan*) to be masterpieces, comparable in their authenticity and power (though not in their production values) to Ang Lee's *Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon*. Unfortunately, widescreen copies of Hu's works are very hard to find, and it takes me an average of three years to get a new one. So when Amazon announced the release of *Painted Skin* (Hua Pi Zhi Yinyang Fawang, 1992) in letterbox format, I was elated. (The movie is actually presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, in Cantonese and Mandarin with fixed Chinese and English subtitles. Misleadingly, Hu is presented on the cover as the director of *Dragon Inn*, while the movie he directed is better known as *Dragon Gate Inn*, the former title being more closely associated to the currently available remake.)Inspired by Pu Songling's *Liaozhai Zhiyi*, this weird supernatural tale covers the same territory as Ching Siu Tung's *A Chinese Ghost Story*: Hsi Tsu (Adam Cheng), a lascivious would-be scholar, comes to the help of You Feng (Joey Wang), a ravishing lady who claims to have fled her home because "No. 1" (her husband's first wife) tormented her. Actually, Feng is a demon who has escaped from the "Yin Yang boundary" and is being pursued by the King of that supernatural kingdom located somewhere between Heaven and Hell. Only the taoist recluse "High Monk" (a bearded Sammo Hung), intent on maximizing both his Yin and his Yang, will be able to protect her.Contrary to Hu's earlier movies, the action here is not limited to classical martial arts scenes with the occasional subtle supernatural touch; it is pure Tsui Hark stuff: a confused mixture of explosions, magic weapons, fireballs and coloured smoke (only the laserbeams are missing). Losing much of his refinement and sobriety, King Hu seems to have been contaminated by the "new wave" of Hong Kong cinema, with its predilection for the grotesque and the ostentatious. The movie opens and ends with a pop song, and were it not for King Hu's beautifully restrained camerawork and his preference for shooting on location, *Painted Skin* would look just like another clone of *Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain* (to Hu's credit, though, I read that budget restrictions prevented him from giving the movie the scope he initially envisioned.)*Painted Skin* is not a bad film and I even prefer it to the poorly constructed and verbose *All the King's Men*. It contains moments of pure poetry that raise far above the eye-catching imagery of most Hong Kong movies; its opening scenes are wonderfully eerie; and some of the views of the Chinese countryside are simply beautiful. But it is not a great film, which one should always expect of Hu.What I hope is that Tai Seng will soon offer us the rest of Hu's filmography in widescreen on DVD, including such unobtainable titles as The Story of Sue San (1962), The Love Eterne (1963), Sons of the Good Earth (1964), Come Drink with Me (starring Cheng Pei Pei and considered to be one of the best 100 Chinese films ever, 1965), Dragon Gate Inn (1966, recently released in a pan and scan DVD version as *Green Dragon Inn*), Four Moods (1970), The Valiant Ones (1974), Marriage (1980), The Wheel of Life (1984) and Reincarnation (1981)."