Friday, August 16, 2013

Painted Skin by Pu Songling

Yeah, this was coming.  I'm always into a good Chinese folklore mood. Lol.  Other times, it's wuxia, but right now...folklores galore!  Let's end the week with a nice combo of book/tv. :D

As I have mentioned before, if you haven't encountered Pu Songling's - then you really should.  His stories were everywhere growing up. TV, movies, books.  There have been so many adaptions on all his stuff it's really incredible.  This time, I wanted to focus on a single story.  This entire post has spoilers since I'll be talking about it non-stop. Lol.

Painted Skin by Pu Songling

This story has been adapted so many times I've completely lost count (I think over 5 tv movies, movies, tv episodes, audio, etc.).  Not counting the oral stories I heard growing up, cuz who am I kidding, those were the best... I wanted to go over the few adaptions that stuck with me more.

The original story was more of a horror and cautionary tale about the dangers of beauty (or in my mind, being blinded by looks) as well as fidelity and loyality.

A man (scholar) met a young beautiful woman that claimed she needed help one night and was so enamored with her, he secretly hid her away to be a concubine.  The scholars wife felt something was off and tried to get the scholar to send the woman away, but was ignored.  Depending on the version, the Taoist priest/beggar (as priests/gods sometimes took the form of beggars) was either summoned or merely saw the guy and told him that he had been haunted/consorting with an evil ghost.

A talisman was given, but the man would not heed the warnings until he saw one time the young woman painting a female face onto a hide/paper for she had no face (again, it various based on version).  He ran away, but the ghost found out and was so mad she ripped his heart out chest and stolen it.  The wife went to beg for help and the priest humiliated her as payment to save her husband.  She saved her husband and the story ended with a lesson about how one should not neglect one's wife (because she only meant well) and to not be tricked by one's eyes/beautiful women.

Yeah, good stuff.

Despite some of the obviously historical gender issues, it was actually pretty modern of quite some time.  It cautioned against concubines, to not "like the new, forget the old" <~Chinese saying, taught about fidelity and to treat one's partner with respect. Pretty cool stuff if you asked me.

Now, onto the film versions, which I have a lot more to say.

Painted Skin (1993 film)
Adam Cheng, Joey Wong, Sammo Hung, Lam Ching Ying, and Wu Ma

This was one of the first and I honestly don't remember too much about it...only that it changed the original story of the woman ghost from evil to a benign spirit, which was kind of the beginning of the change for all future versions.  They also created an evil spirit-king to fight against.

It was pretty good in the sense they started making changes and extending the story to include more of the fact not everyone and everything was clearly good or evil.  The idea of the kind spirit/ghost was starting to take hold.  Granted, I had some problems with the gender roles, etc. still, but it was very fun to watch as a kid.  Plus, Joey Wong really was such a beauty.  Sammo Hung was awesome and my personal favorite, Wu Ma.  He's just so cool, even to this day when I think of supernatural stories.

Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, or Liao Zhai (2005 TV mini series)

This was the one I had previously posted about.

By far, this was one of my favorite due to the extensive background and the idea of karma it was imbued.  The changes made also allowed the entire story to take on another very cool idea.    In this case, the scholar was extremely talented, but poor.  Still he wanted to go take his examination in the city and left.  There, he married the niece of one of the Emperor's favorite concubine (thus totally elevating him in the social standing).  He was commissioned by his wife's cousin to paint a beautiful woman onto a human hide.

He rescued a young woman that looked exactly like the woman in his painting and hid her away as his concubine.  By coincidence, he met a priest that gave him the warning about the young woman he now kept and then we get to the really juicy part.

The ghost was a woman he knew back in his old hometown.  She was a singing "geisha" girl - a woman that worked in a brothel, but sold her talent abilities rather than simply having relations.  A great beauty that brought in the wealthy guests.  This poor scholar pursued her with his literary blahs and promised to marry her after he finished his exam.  After a year of not hearing from him, she brought his mother and their child to the capital to search for him.  He claimed to have had all his stuff stolen (including the money she gave him) and that he had missed the examination so he was selling his paintings to get by until the next. We never found out if what he said was true, but he basically already met his very wealthy and connected wife already.  In a fight, he left her get burned to death so she came back to haunt him.  The mother left to be a nun, but remained quiet about the whole thing.

Yeah...very awesome and heavy stuff.  I loved this series the most because it actually gave background and motivation (the dude killed his own child too) to all the characters and it was super fun to watch.  Not that I agreed with a lot of it.  Heck, even if I loved a guy and didn't have the heart to kill him, I'd still kill him for killing my kid.  The mother, I don't pity her at all since he knowingly kept silent about everything.  The wife...well, she wasn't all the innocent either and didn't heed the warnings.  Overall, I felt this was one of the better adaptions.  I loved the creepy ending too...

Since you didn't ask and I wanted to rant - The scholar ended up letting his wife die in labor and passed the kid to his mother to raise.  It's because the Princess, cousin to his wife, wanted to marry him - they were carrying on an affair.  So the two female ghosts came back and killed them.

It was awesome to watch. Hahaha.

Painted Skin (2008 film)
Donnie Yen, Chen Kun, Zhou Xun, Zhao Wei, Betty Sun and Qi Yuwu

This version had an all star cast, but they dramatically changed the story.  The most dramatic was to change the ghost into a fox-demon/vixen/shifter, which I really didn't understand.  Changing her from a ghost to a fox demon...I mean, what purpose does it serve?  Ok, it probably does make more sense in the context of the story, but there were many other stories about fox demon.  I would've preferred they simply used those.  Then again, Painted Skin was a more famous story.  Well, since they made the change, all subsequent versions did the same.  Fox-demons everywhere! 

For me, that felt the entire intent of the story changed.  Fox-demons/spirits/shifters held a different social standing than that of ghosts.  These creatures were like organic creatures, they could be rocks, flowers, rivers, or any form of animals that had existed a long time.  They gain a form of self awareness where they would actively seek a way to enlighten - therefore empower themselves.  To gain power, they could go the route of compassion, meditation and the like, or they could steal other creature's energy/life-force as another way. 

Ghosts were human spirits, thus had the human problems and situations.  They had either not passed onto the underworld (punishment, limbo, waiting for reincarnation, etc).  In some cases, as with the 1993 film had some greater power/evil/regret that kept the human spirit from moving on. 

Ergo, in my mind, the two hold very different social meanings and stories.  The replacement really bothered me.  Oh well, not much I can do.

Oh, one thing I liked about the changes: they gave the reason to why she stole hearts.  She ate them (yelck!) to maintain her human form.  This was more of a quad-love conflict and focused on the love part.  Storyline was pretty weak, but it was very visually pretty to watch.  The actors and actresses were great and I enjoyed it for the most part.  I just stopped thinking of it as this story.  It took more from some of Pu Songling's other collections.  Oh well, I enjoyed it overall.

The gorgeousness and fame of this version led to a sequel.

Painted Skin: The Resurrection (a.k.a. Painted Skin II) was released in 2012.

This was very visually awesome to watch.  Like seriously awesome to watch.  The storyline was pretty much independent except for the same fox-demon.  She finally escaped her imprisonment in ice and now set turn herself human by having someone willingly give her their heart.  Literally, not figuratively.  The Princess and the Guard really loved each other and the Fox demon really want to be human.  Again, incredible to watch because it's just so pretty.  Although a little heavy on certain parts of the CGI, I saw that many of the stuff was most of those underwater scenes.  The actor and actress was talking about how the clothes would be so heavy they sometimes almost drowned.  And the opening when the Fox demon was running, yeah, apparently she did it barefoot for quite some time.  The director and people behind the scenes were super worried since the actresses feet were cut pretty bad and she kept going.  Dedication indeed. 

Seriously, this one was very visually gorgeous to watch. Which in turned created... Painted Skin  (TV series 2011)

Although this was more of a tv retelling of the first 2008 film.  It was an nice attempt to give more story background.  I didn't like it as much though since I didn't find it as beautiful to watch.  The actors and actresses weren't bad, but since I wasn't fully invested in the storyline to begin with, it was kind of hard to connect with the whole thing.

Just imagine a longer version of 2008 movie was what you'd get.

Still, it was pretty popular.  Popular enough to finally lead to the most recent one.

Painted Skin 2《画皮之真爱无悔》(2013 version)

This was more of a retelling of the 2008/2012 film with great emphasis to Chinese mythology.  It also had a greater political backdrop. I actually liked this series to a point.  I didn't quite like the many love-this, love-that.  They have gotten all pretty serious about the romance aspect.  As much as I appreciated watching people's reactions to what they felt was love, it got a little much.  Sometimes I just wanted to slap a few of them.  Luckily, the writers were smart enough to have the characters smack some sense into each other. Hahahaha.  The cast was great, mainly for another reason (the princess and guard were in another show together...hehehe).  Overall, good to watch.

Now, to move a little into the analysis.  One reason why I always enjoyed re-tellings, adaptations and the sort was because it reveals a lot about the time period and the storytellers' beliefs, ideas, world and society.  Each interpretation had their own criticisms of the times as well as the longing.

From before, mutual respect and fear of the unknown to not everyone can be simply labeled good/bad based on their origins, to the horrors of love power of love. I would like to think because the current social environment has been pretty tough that a lot of the later adaptions focused on power, politics and war - especially the folly of the three.  Peace was really what everyone wanted and to be able to be with those they loved. 

My person criticism really should cover more than this story, which was the constant repetition of the sacrifice of love.  In and of itself sacrificing for love was a sound and very genuine thing.  In many, many stories nowadays, was this near martyrdom of women sacrificing themselves. Either that or be cast and labeled as a demon, villain or vixen.  I felt that although these stories were trying to analyze and alter this idea, they all ended up following said formula.  For a supposed demon/villain/vixen to be redeemed was to sacrifice themselves.  It's not bad, but it has been everywhere.  Even when I was a little kid, women were almost always taught in everything they see and watch that endurance of suffering led to some kind of magical happiness.  Screw that!  I got tricked once, no more! ;)  I half joke.  What frustrated me was that there used to be a good balance between the genders (sort of), but it has gotten less and less (compared to before). 

I watched another show the other day where one of the characters said something that really struck me as what I would like to scream at the book/tv say when the stories became oversaturated with this martyrdom-redemption (modern era story).  Rough translation: There must be 100 ways for this issue to be resolved, there's no need to choose the most vicious/deadly/dangerous one. 

Granted, I liked most of these versions because they attempted to work in a different ended.  The original, the scholar was lectured and saved so evil was banished.  The older movies, the good ghost along with everyone else, was able to get a second chance.  My favorite mini-series show, no one's invincible, we all have to pay for our crimes, etc.  The recent movies were more about the self-sacrifice of love and to not judge appearances. The final tv series was more "happy" so to speak.  I think they wanted to wrap things up all nice and happy.

I definitely recommend this story (all versions) to everyone out there.  I wanted to rate them separately, but am too lazy.  Lol.  I give this story a solid 8 all around.  Each version complemented the other.  Plus, they all had strong points and all had weak points. 

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