Faust, a scholar, sold his soul to Satan, in return for supernatural power – a German myth celebratedly written in Goethe’s play. Painted Skin: The Resurrection retold this story in the form of a traditional Chinese ghost story, with flowery kimono, aesthetic scenery and most importantly in an intense romantic story.
Eight years ago during a hunting, a black bear tore half of the beautiful Princess Jing’s face, later wearing a golden mask to hide the disfigured face. Her lover, Huo Xin, failing to protect the Princess, was exiled to protect the borders. Eight years after, Princess Jing went to find Huo Xin but met the Fox Xiao Wei who wants someone to voluntarily offer a heart to become a human. Using a spell, the Fox clouded Huo Xin’s eyes to love her self – painted face and to make him distancing from Princess Jing. The Fox began to persuade her to exchange her heart in return for a spotless face that could attract back the beloved Huo Xin.
It seems an open secret that men love the beauty of women, sometimes not only at his own costs but at the costs of million lives; Paris’ attraction for Helen (triggering the Trojan war) and King Zhou (紂王) ‘s indulgence for Daji (妲己) (leading to the downfall of the Shang dynasty) very well demonstrated this.
The popular interpretation for Huo Xin’s love for the Fox and Princess Jing’s spotless face is how the skin (皮相) often overshadowed the essence of beauty that lies in the heart(心相). This reminds me of the words spoken by the Little Prince: Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux. (Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye).
Visual beauty presents illusion like moon in water – transient, intangible and unreal. Yet few realizes this but keeps sinking into the quagmire.Consequently, as the Little Prince has remarked, Huo Xin sees not the essentials, i.e. Princess Jing’s love, but wrongly concentrates on the trivialities.
Interestingly, the deal between Princess Jing and the Fox struck a chord with the Faustian myth. The psychological struggle within Princess Jing and the wider conflicts among her, Huo Xin and the Fox have furnished the traditional short story recorded in the Strange Tales of Liaozhai (聊齋誌異) and also deepened the psychological activities in the characters that are often completely absent in traditional Chinese literature.
At the final scene, Huo Xin no longer needs to see the Princess. He ‘hears’ her. That’s more than enough.
Painted Skin: The Resurrection is directed by Wuershan , starring Kun Chen, Wei Zhao, and Xun Zhou