Starring Zhou Xun as the fox demon Xiaowei, Zhao Wei as the Princess Jing, Chen Kun as General Huo Xin, Yang Mi as Qu’er (who I call Birdie), Feng Shaofeng as the demon exorcist, Chen Tingjia as the chieftess of the Tianlang Clan, and Fei Xiang as the Voldemort-With-A-Nose, Painted Skin II became the highest grossing domestic film in China with its release in the summer. I can’t screen cap the movie because the version I’m using is too low quality (I did watch it in HQ at the theater), so what pictures you find will be stills I find online. Part Two of the recap will be up next week.
Five hundred years ago, a fox demon saved a mortal man’s life and thus broke the laws of the demon world. As punishment, she was trapped in an icy prison (cue a very blue and icy landscape, with snow crusted mountains and some green aurora borealis.) Creepy music and cold wind is heard. Through the ice, a sleeping woman can be discerned; very pale, with white hair white hair fanned out underneath her. (They look like several tails trapped in the ice with her; hint hint.) A little magpie circles above the ice a few times before landing on the ice and pecking at it. Birdie’s definitely not normal (isn’t she a little far from her natural habitat?); the ice cracks and the figure in the ice opens her eyes. She lands on the ground and breaks into a run (cue dramatic music. Also, the ice is gone.) The ice lady sprints across a grassy plain, looking behind her frantically, Birdie flying above her.
Welcome to Painted Skin II, the Resurrection. (More creepy music.)
Music associated with the desert/non-Han ethnicities plays. Slaves trudge across a desert landscape, under the lash of a whip. Through the lattice of a carriage a woman (confident, rather than scared now) teases a magpie. In the carriage with her is a long haired dude who says he has two hobbies (guy has no life) – training the best horses, and embracing the most beautiful women (creeper). He makes a move on the woman, but alas, she easily escapes him. Flirtatiously, she asks him what he can give her in return for what he wants from her.
“HAHAHAHA! DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? I CAN GIVE YOU ANYTHING!” is the gist of what the creeper says next. (Birdie scoffs). “I want your heart,” says the suave lady. The creeper laughs, until someone plunges their claws into his back and quite literally pulls out his heart. Birdie, it turns out, is a demon too; in her human form, she notes that he’s another liar who doesn’t man what he says, referring to the first woman as elder sister.
Xiaowei (hopefully you’ve figured out by now that the ice-suave lady is the fox demon) is kind of pessimistic, remarking that the solar eclipse has almost arrived. Birdie assures Xiaowei that she’ll go and have her entire flock help her find “him.”
A month later, Xiaowei (pale face, red lipped, black-haired like Snow White) is running through a canyon, pursued by hooded men on horseback. Another figure, this one in gold armor, riding on a white horse, rides in and beats up the other men, sweeping Xiaowei onto the horse with him/her. The sound of a heart thumping echoes through the valley. Xiaowei’s expression is cold; behind the two, the bodies of the men disintegrate into a pile of snakes. (Whether they were originally just Xiaowei’s creations or that’s her retribution, the fox demon didn’t really need help against them.)
Under a full moon, by a crackling fire, Xiaowei says that she is a singer/dancer and declares she is willing to serve the general wherever he goes. Cue pipa playing; woeful singing – “Once I departed, carrying the woe of the willows; Today I returned, in the midst of the rain and snow. Those who know me say, your heart is overflowing with sorrow (looking at the general), those who don’t know me ask me what more I could want…” Oh, look, half of the general’s face is covered by a gold mask! Ah, that must be Zhao Wei! Oh, wait, sorry, that was a spoiler if you didn’t look at the movie poster.
The moment is crystallized in a single drop of water. As the water hits a plant, ice encases the poor plant and spreads over the land, creeping up behind Xiaowei and encasing her pipa. Her breath comes out as fog.
Frightened, Xiaowei drops the pipa and hides behind the general. The ice recedes, the general grips his sword. It turns out that the general’s body is very, very hot (as in warm); Xiaowei does this groping thing and the general clamors away, up a rocky ledge. “I’m scared,” Xiaowei says (referring to the bandits – as if!); the general throws down a gem encrusted dagger/sword (obviously, s/he is rich.)
At night, Xiaowei (eyes glint green for a second) sends a scorpion to bite the general, who flails and falls onto the ground. (Somehow, she doesn’t wake up.) A flaming phoenix thingy flies in and turns into Birdie, who is impressed that people who aren’t seduced by Xiaowei exist. (Birdie has not been hanging out with the right crowd.) “Let’s dig out his heart!” says Birdie, the way your little sister might say, “Let’s open up a new bag of chips!” (They have the same intention; to eat.)
Xiaowei, reminiscing about how hot the general’s body is, tells Birdie to slow down. His body is so hot it could melt ice. Waitwaitwait, actually, he’s a female….! Birdie settles for the scorpion (as a snack) instead; they take off the mask (we see only the normal profile), and gasp. “Huo Xin….” the woman says.
It’s morning again. Birdie has left, Girl-General rides into “the White City” with Xiaowei.
Inside, a somewhat disheveled man keeps children at bay, promising them a story. He proclaims that demons have human form, can speak the human language, and can manipulate a person while the person believes he/she is acting of his/her own free will..(The kids smile mischievously, hiding something behind their back – how does the man not notice this? Possibly, he is too busy grabbing a piece of bread from one of the kids.) He shows them a green bottle containing part of the tail of a fox demon, which is supposed to light up whenever a fox demon is nearby. (A cat mewls, the kids gather around him…)
He reveals the mythology of the movie – demons do not have hearts, only souls. A demon must eat human hearts in order to maintain their human forms. (Cue advertisement – and that is why you will be coming to me for help one day!) The kids throw a “demon” at the exorcist/man (actually a cat with something furry around its neck) and help themselves to some of the exorcist’s wares before being chased away. The man is very incompetent, but then his magic green bottle starts to glow as Xiaowei and the general ride in. He’s delighted, probably because he thinks somebody might actually pay him now.
A man runs up the fort of the white city, meanwhile, the men inside cheer on a certain General Huo. A man puts a coin (one of those ones with a hole in the center) into a vase and shakes it. General Huo closes his eyes handsomely. The other men throw up the vase, General Huo draws back his bow (handsomely), his ears twitch (handsomely); the coin rattles in the vase (metallically?)…as General Huo opens his eyes (handsomely), the arrow flies through the air, crashing through the vase and through the hole in the coin. The arrow pins the coin to a wall. …That’s enough note of General Huo’s apparent handsomeness for now. Wild applause. General Huo is given the first drink from a little pot of wine – then a messenger gives him a bejeweled dagger, and as Huo Xin stares at the blade, a memory: “Huo Xin, do you like me?” asks a young girl in golden armor, spinning in the snow.
Flash to a picture of the blade stabbing into a mass of black fur.
In the present, General Huo (much to the consternation of his soldiers) pours the wine over his head, smiling. I would want to stink of wine too, if I was meeting with the princess of my country. (Reminder – do not look at her face you enter the room, stare at your own feet.) Huo Xin and some of his men go to meet the princess.
Xiaowei seems to be amused as she watches the General and the princess (the girl-general, still in bright gold armor and a gold mask) greet each other with cold formality (how different from the nose-nuzzling of the first movie!). The princess asks if Huo Xin remembers how long it’s been since they bid farewell in the palace; nonchalantly, Huo Xin claims he does not. He makes a guess – “Six, seven…eight years?” The princess is incensed; Xiaowei is sent to pour more wine over Huo Xin’s head. He actually looks/feels different from Wang Sheng of the first movie, which must be why Xiaowei doesn’t have much of a reaction to his looks.
The princess approaches him. She remembers perfectly; eight years, seven months. Return to the memory – the young princess spins in the snow. In the present, the two look at each other; Xiaowei has a little smirk on her face. The princess decides she would like a party.
The exorcist attempts to march in (into Huo Xin’s residence) after a regime of guards, but his rag-tag clothing is in clear contrast with the armor of the other soldiers (this should have been a no-brainer.) He tries to explain to the guards that there’s a demon here, and walks in.
He is unceremoniously and promptly thrown out. (Lesson: Try to dress a little more professionally when trying to talk to the commander of a region. At the very least your bottom escorted out with a spear.)
At the party, the princess proposes a toast, but Huo Xin refuses it on the grounds that her earlier scolding has convinced him to pursue temperance. Before them, Xiaowei dances, purple robes flying. Huo Xin keeps his eyes downcast, and then black shadows fly out of Xiaowei’s robes, to take the form of dark foxes on the walls. They fly around for a while, before converging around Huo Xin’s shadow and diving into his eyes. For a moment, his entire eye turns black (it’s very, very creepy.)
Now he stares at Xiaowei and smiles a lot. Xiaowei dances into his arms; her purple robe covers them, and an intimate moment begins. The princess cuts it short with an angry cry. (Poor girl.)
The princess threatens Xiaowei with the bejeweled dagger. Xiaowei says that General Huo has been waiting outside of the room for a day and a night now; the princess remembers a black bear slashing at her face and leaving half of it covered in blood.
Xiaowei sits next to Huo Xin outside and touches his face, smiling. Huo Xin expresses bafflement and then moves. Xiaowei smiles to herself.
At night, Birdie peers at the city. The exorcist clumsily clangs around. Birdie walks by two shifty personages, who eye her and try to hit on her. The exorcist sees and runs over. One of the men puts his hand under Birdie’s chin, and Birdie’s hand begins to reach for his chest…and then a flag separates him and the exorcist bumbles in, proclaiming that the man must be suffering from some sort of disease and he, the exorcist, has just the secret medicine to cure it! (To Birdie, he whispers, “Leave!”) A comical brawl breaks out and the exorcist falls against a table, Birdie looks on skeptically, one of the men runs forward and starts to slug the exorcist. (“Let me go! I’m Huo Xin’s sworn brother!” “And his father was my stableboy; yeah right!”) The first man returns to trying to hit on Birdie, who then takes his heart. Its heat releases steam in the night, and the other man runs away screaming.
Exorcist is disconcerted too. Calmly, Birdie licks the blood on her fingers, teases him (“I thought you were a demon slayer…never seen a demon before?”)
“What species of demon are you?” the exorcist asks, instead of running away screaming. Birdie screeches and turns into a bird, leaving the exorcist with a single feather. Above them, the moon is covered with a thin shadow.
The princess and Huo Xin are riding by the seaside. The princess gives Huo Xin the bejeweled dagger and asks him if he remembers it; Huo Xin responds that he thought it was left in the belly of the black bear. The princess says that ever since he left the capital, she has encrusted one jewel onto the handle every time it snows. The goldsmith has told her there is only room for one more jewel (it must not snow very much in the capital. It’s been eight years and seven months, after all. Also, I’m surprised she threw it down to Xiaowei so readily when it’s supposed to be so precious to her.) Anyway, they go back to memoryland again and the princess giggles; young Huo Xin is blindfolded. A snowball flies through the air and Huo Xin’s arrow pierces it; a light down of snow falls over the two. (More spinning on the princess’ part.)
The princess asks Huo Xin if he likes her as she removes his blindfold. Huo Xin doesn’t respond, and the princess kicks at him angrily.
In the present day, the princess asks Huo Xin why he didn’t answer her. Er, because she’s a princess and he’s just a royal guard? Huo Xin points this out and doesn’t ask why the princess hasn’t figured this out, even though she’s presumably had eight years to dwell over it. Of course, she could have been unconscious for seven of those years, which also might be why it’s only now that the dagger is running out of space for jewels.
In the memory, the princess rides into the forest, though Huo Xin cautions her it’s dangerous. The princess tells him not to bother with her. In the present, the princess tells Huo Xin to look at her. She asks him if he likes her, and he says that he once dreamed of spending his entire life protecting her. They smile a little, the princess becomes teary. Nobody has seen the other half of her face before (or so she thinks), but she doesn’t care if Huo Xin does and gives him permission to remove her mask.
Just as he’s about to list the gold mask, Huo Xin remembers watching the princess fall as the bear attacks her. In the memory, the bear leaves the princess with half of her face covered in blood and charges at Huo Xin, who unleashes an arrow that blinds the bear in one eye. Huo Xin charges at the bear with a sword, but the bear bats him off easily. In the end Huo Xin barely survives, only just managing to drive a dagger into the bear’s stomach. Young Huo Xin holds the princess’ body and screams.
So Huo Xin of the present day cannot bear to remove the mask.
Huo Xin tells the princess that she should leave soon, the belligerent Tianlang Clan is dangerously close by. The princess wants him to leave with her, so they can wander the world together. Huo Xin insists he cannot desert his post and besides, he doesn’t want to be unable to protect her again. By now he’s turned his back to her and so she hugs him from the back (“Don’t force me to leave!”). Huo Xin dodges her and offers the dagger to her, asking her to forget him forever.
From behind a mound-thing of rocks, a man dressed in furs glares at them. The princess rides off on her white horse, leaving Huo Xin behind. She’s on the brink of tears. The fur-man also rides away, angrily.
On the top of a cliff the princess looks out at the ocean.
In the royal court of the Tianlang Clan, Voldemort-With-A-Nose chants over a fire of skulls and bones. He picks up one of them and crumbles it into a cup as he calls to his ancestors. The fur-man prostrates himself before a woman robed in white wolf furs, reporting that the woman with a mask is in the White City. The woman throws her cup to the ground – the Han Chinese have broken their promise.
Voldemort says that in seven days, the Tianlang God will swallow the sun. This is the only time when the prince of the Tianlang Clan can return to her side. The woman becomes emotional, but Voldemort tells her it’s time to wage war on the White City, not cry.
Actually, what this part really sounded to me was gibberish, since they’re not speaking Mandarin or English. Most of this comes from reading the subtitles.
At the cliff, the princess frees her horse and tells it to live a free life for her. She then falls backward into the ocean. As she’s sinking, a woman with white hair drives her back to the surface…