Painted Skin

In this beautifully textured ghost story directed by King Hu the term "painted skin" refers to the human form that ghosts take on occasion to disguise themselves, but it could almost refer to the nearly paint like quality of this film. The beautiful images and exquisite detail of ancient China almost take on a fine brush feel to it. It may be too slow for many, but the mood, cinematography and sound track struck a chord with me.

From the opening credits, the paint like texture of this film is created as the camera traverses through landscapes into a room full of men playing ancient Chinese instruments late into the night. Master Wong (Adam Cheng) takes his leave to go home and on his way he sees a woman approaching him down this long shadowy alleyway. It is Joey Wong in a white shrouded outfit and she tells him that she needs a place to sleep that night as she has run away from her husband. Not being crazy, he gladly gives his assent and takes her home where he asks his wife if he can take her as his concubine. The wife wants to get a look at this woman and so she pokes a hole through the paper wall and much to her horror sees Joey take off her human face.

Joey tries to explain that she is "between Ying & Yang" a wandering ghost unable to go to either heaven or hell and she has escaped from the evil Ghost King. She enlists the help of two Taoist priests in an attempt to kill the Ghost King so that she can be reincarnated, but their powers are not strong enough and so they journey to find a powerful priest to help them. They find him in the form of Sammo Hung. Don't expect much in terms of martial arts; it's primarily magic that is used but much of it is done very well. And Joey as usual makes a very lovely ethereal ghost.

This is King Hu's final film and it is considered by most to be one of his weakest films - slow and very mannered. After seeing some of his earlier films it seems evident that he had not changed his style with the times. Time had passed him by for the 90's audience. Tsui Hark had reinvented this type of film (though Tsui was very influenced by Hu) with his surreal images and kinetic action but Hu was doing it as he always did.  But I loved the attention to detail and the slow paced mood of the film.

I have to be a ghost again !?