Painted Skin: The Resurrection
Starring: Vicky Zhao Wei, Zhou Xun, Chen Kun, Mini Yang Mi
Category: IIB (Putonghua)
Resurrection? Regression more like, as director Wuershan's attempt to outdo Gordon Chan Ka-seung's Painted Skin trips on the same missteps of many a slammed mainland blockbuster of years past.
Heavy on digitally enhanced imagery and light on narrative poise, Wuershan - a former director of television commercials - has delivered a flashy yet hollow piece, its stunning effects barely obscuring a premise driven by a mish-mash of influences from Western fairy tales and feted period Chinese movies.
Painted Skin - The Resurrection bears only the slightest link to the Pu Chongling tale which provided this and its 2008 predecessor with their titles. The connecting tissue is Xiaowei (Zhou Xun), the fox spirit who sacrificed herself in the first film's final act to give a married couple happy-ever-after ending.
Here, she has been frozen for 500 years, breaking free with the help of bird demon Quer (Mini Yang Mi), after which she again devours hearts to stay alive.
Xiaowei then meets Jing (Vicky Zhao Wei, right, with Zhou), a princess tracking soldier Huo Xin (Chen Kun), who has been stationed at a far-flung outpost. Disfigured by a bear attack while in her teens - which led to Huo, her guard and also object of affections, being exiled - Jing fails to get Huo to admit his feelings for her. Xiaowei and Jing strike a pact, with Jing trading in her heart for Xiaowei's skin (and Huo's love).
Simple as it is, the basic plot brims with opportunities for emotive melodrama or - at a stretch a contemplative look at how physicality affects passion and perception. Instead, Wuershan opts for style over substance and cashes in on the sex appeal of the two leading actresses - ironic given the film's moral about beauty being skin deep.
A number of frustrations interrupt the story's flow: Xiaowei performing a supposedly titillating dance - glimpses of bare shoulders and thighs ahoy - to seduce Huo, or the one-too-many scenes of the naked Xiaowei and Jing swapping their corporeal outfits in a bathing pool.
Adding nothing to the mix are a comic romance between Quer and a fumbling devil-hunter Pang Lang (Feng Shaofeng), which only jars with the epic nature of the central romance, while a fur-clad tribe of primitives is a sad hangover of those days when the enemies of civilisation were depicted as backward, savage monsters.
Then there are the moments drawn from Snow White, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid and Ghostbusters, a list of uninspiring influences which speak volumes about the flimsiness of the whole enterprise, masked by extended barrages of digital whoosh.
Painted Skin: The Resurrection opens today