“Guo Jing Ming’s Painted Skin and Wuliang” Movie Review

I finally did it. I finally cried for all the right reasons.

I can’t remember the last time I was so mesmerised by something I’d watched. Of course, there were moments I’d found characters or the actors who played them very beautiful, but never was I so hyperaware of how pretty everything was that I forgot to pay more attention to what was actually going on (hence the multiple rewatches).

Painted Skin has had a few live-action adaptations before—the Chinese movie in 2008 followed by a series in 2011, although the Hong Kong adaptations are older (1966 and 1993 respectively)—which are very loosely based on a short story from Pu Song Ling’s Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio. While Guo Jing Ming’s 1st short film entry for the “Everybody Standby 2” contest is a revised adaptation of the short story mentioned above, no one’s really sure what the origins of Wuliang are.

Painted Skin (2020)

Guo Jing Ming’s edition of Painted Skin—also known as Hua Pi Xian Zi—seems to be more closely related to the 2008 Chinese adaptation in terms of characterisation, the setting (late Qin/early Han dynasty), and a major chunk of the plot. Although I haven’t watched the 2008 movie—because I couldn’t care less about cishet plots anymore (plus, it’s longer)—there seem to be quite a few elements that have been changed in this short film (at least, from what I’ve read).

I’m assuming that the creators used only one out of the original two love triangles—the one that links the main characters in this version, Wang Sheng, Xiao Wei, and Pei Rong—owing to the time constraints; this movie is only 31 minutes long after all. What’s even more interesting is the reversal of roles in this adaptation. The 2008 movie portrays Wang Sheng as the general who protects the village. On the other hand, this short film has Pei Rong (Wang Chu Ran), also known as General Hua, who protects the village from the attacks of what is said to be a monster that feasts on human hearts. Her partner, Wang Sheng (He Chang Xi), waits for her return. This is a welcome change, even though the reason she takes over Wang Sheng’s role as protector is because of his injured legs (I always stan a warrior woman).

One day, Pei Rong brings home Xiao Wei (Ding Cheng Xin), a young man she’d rescued during her hunt for the monster. Wang Sheng seems to be suspicious that Xiao Wei may be the very monster that they’re looking for, especially when he sees him growing closer to Pei Rong during his stay at their home. Things take a turn for the worse from here, with sparks flying (in so many ways) between Wang Sheng and Xiao Wei every time they meet. Despite a lot of things being revealed at the very beginning of the film, I was not prepared for what happens during the course of this story of love and sorrow.

The chemistry between the leads is amazing; one can guess that it’s a heavily censored BL-adjacent piece of work at a glance (kind of sad, really). The line “I want Wang Sheng’s heart” holds so much more meaning than what’s on the surface, but whatever is between Xiao Wei and Wang Sheng remains hidden throughout the film.

The unrequited love that Xiao Yi has for Xiao Wei is maintained as it is in the older Chinese adaptation (although their sequences are only meant to reduce them to a shippable couple, nothing more). Xiao Yi is the one who helps the Xiao Wei procure human hearts so that he can keep his youthful human-like appearance, and also ends up staying with him until the end. Overall, I find it to be a fresh take on the 2008 Chinese adaptation, with the right amount of angst; it’s just that the bit of bromance that was present between the main leads wasn’t fleshed out as much as I wanted it to be.

Wuliang (2020)

Although not a direct sequel to Painted Skin (2020), this short film resembles its predecessor especially since the actors who play the leads are the same. Wuliang is barely a few minutes longer and had been released less than a month later than Painted Skin as part of the same contest as mentioned above.

The movie opens with Po Xiao’s son explaining to the viewers the importance of a particular grave that his father visits every year. Both the roles of father and son are played by Ding Cheng Xin, while He Chang Xi plays the role of Feng Ren, the other lead character in this film. This leads to the next sequence (a flashback to how Po Xiao and Feng Ren met) when the imperial guards attack the Wuliang manor in search of the Heart Sutra, one of the most powerful sutras in the pugilist world. The existence of this sutra alone threatens the peace of the world because of the absolute power it can provide to the one who uses it. This sutra is usually inherited by the blind boys in the Wuliang manor as means of protection.

That’s right. Po Xiao is considered one of the four blind inheritors of the sutra.

Feng Ren is one of the protectors of the sutra (the term used in the film is Gushi) who’s entrusted with the job of keeping Po Xiao safe. Together they embark on a journey to the Wuliang manor of the north in order to escape the imperial court. Feng Ren seems to be suspicious of Po Xiao throughout their journey, but they become close as they spend more time with each other. An incident that takes place during their travel to the northern Wuliang manor changes many things, and they make promises to each other—Feng Ren says that he won’t leave ever Po Xian if the latter promises not to use the Heart Sutra for evil purposes.

Is it tragic? Well, yes and no. I just found way too many coincidences in the ending—but I’m probably nitpicking. All in all, their chemistry fared a lot better than in Painted Skin—there’s no love triangle, just two boys who are fond of each other and are hiding it under the guise of ‘friendship’ (censorship issues). The sequences of Po Xiao holding on to Feng Ren’s sword as the latter leads the blind boy through the crowded streets on their journey are so precious; they might as well be holding hands. The two share their sorrows, shed tears, and try to save each other—it’s a full package, a fujin’s dream.

Final Thoughts

Guo Jing Ming’s edition of Painted Skin and Wuliang are an aesthetic treat for anyone who watches it; you can enjoy it even if you aren’t very familiar with wuxia as a genre. The cinematographic is breathtaking, the action is well-shot, the music is beautiful, and the main cast is so visually pleasing. The stories manage to shine through despite how limited the films are in terms of time. I like Wuliang a lot—maybe a tad bit more than Painted Skin. Personal preferences aside, they’re both amazing short films, and I hope more people watch them.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

Unofficial Links-

Painted Skin- https://dailymotion.com/video/x7xyup8 (Password- huapi)

Wuliang- https://dailymotion.com/video/x7y509i (Password- wuliang)

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