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The Painted Veil – Review

7 Apr

Way back in 1925 a book was written called The Painted Veil, which told a story of love, heartbreak, and betrayal in the midst of a cholera epidemic in rural China. I’m not sure what the initial reaction was to the novel, but it spawned a plethora of adaptations dating back to 1934 and starring Greta Garbo. Another adaptation happened in 1957 with the film The Seventh Sin, an overlooked movie that cost MGM a great deal of money. The version I’m going to be talking about is the 2006 film starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton. The Painted Veil is one of those movies where I’m really glad to have watched it, but it’s not something that’s going to stick with me for very long.

Kitty (Naomi Watts) is a well known and admired socialite who has no real interest in doing much of anything with her life, despite the pleas of her parents to find someone to marry and build a family with. Kitty is taken off guard one night when she meets a bacteriologist named Walter (Edward Norton) who asks her to marry him the next time they meet. She agrees to the marriage for the sole purpose of getting as far away as possible from her family. The couple move to Shanghai for Walter to continue his work, but Kitty meets Charlie (Liev Schreiber), a British government official, and they begin an affair. Walter quickly learns this and volunteers for a position to study Cholera in a rural village suffering from an epidemic. He brings Kitty along as a punishment and threatens to create a scandal if she doesn’t accompany him. It is in the middle of the sickness and the death that Kitty and Walter are forced to face mortality and their own selves to discover what is really important in their lives.

The first thing that pops out at me in The Painted Veil, and where I think the film is most successful, is in its production design. This is a gorgeous looking movie that’s beautifully shot and filled with excellent costumes and set designs. Being a period piece, it’s very important that the film has a sense of time and place, and this one knows and understands its time very well. This is why I really love well made period pieces, because they have the ability to transport you to a time that you’ve never seen before or never had the chance to experience. This also comes in handy when dealing with the plot point of a cholera epidemic. It hits the viewer hard and director John Curran pulled no punches in showing the horror that these people went through before a real cure was found.

You can clearly tell that the studio and makers of this film were really trying to push this movie as Oscar bait. Unfortunately, it never got to that point. I will say that they cast the right actors to get audiences’ attention, including mine. I think Edward Norton and Naomi Watts are two powerhouse actors, and usually give their all to whatever movie they’re in. The same can be said about their performances in The Painted Veil. They have really good chemistry together, which makes it all the more upsetting when the hostility between their characters reach their boiling points. There’s also real fear behind the stone wall façades that the two characters have built up, which make them feel all the more human. There’s also some great performances by the film’s minor roles with Toby Jones and Anthony Wong.

It’s hard to pinpoint where this movie falters, but I can’t help shake the feeling that the full potential of this film wasn’t reached. It may be that this story and its archetypal characters have been seen a dozen times before since the original story was written way back in 1925. There’s lots of flash in the production design and the acting, but I knew exactly where the story was going to go before I even started watching the movie. I had a good idea of what was going to happen based on the plot summary and most things I predicted came true. That takes a lot of joy and fun out of watching a movie since it feels like I’ve seen it all before. There are certain plot points in movie that can be predictable and have the movie remain intact, but when I can guess the entire movie, beat by beat, it kind of makes me rethink how entertaining the movie actually was.

I’m glad that I watched The Painted Veil because it has some really great production design, very good acting, and an interesting enough hook to get me engaged in the story. I feel as if I don’t need to see it again, however, because at the end of it all it was a very predictable film. It doesn’t dare to be different from any other romantic period drama, and it actually seems to try really hard to stay within the parameters of a very exact formula. If anyone ever asks me if they should watch The Painted Veil, I’d say sure, but I’d never go out of my way to recommend it.

Final Grade: B

The Four Trilogy – Review

10 Dec

Did you ever wonder what the X-Men would look like if they all knew kung fu? No? Me neither, but I think I found out something that very much resembles that fantasy. I’m talking about Gordon Chan’s The Four and it’s two sequels. Gordon Chan isn’t a film maker who just decided to dabble in the martial arts genre having already made the classic Fist of Legend starring Jet Li and its sequel Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen starring Donnie Yen. The Four Trilogy may not have the same power as these two films, but they are surprisingly fun and never actually bored me, even though the storytelling can get a little hard to follow.

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During the reign of Emperor Huizong in China during the early 1100s, crime was kept under control by Department Six, but there was yet another much more powerful watchful eye being kept over the criminal underworld. The Divine Constabulary, made up of Emotionless (Liu Yifei), Iron Hands (Collin Chou), Life Stealer (Ronald Cheng), and newcomer Cold Blood (Deng Chao), was a department of four super powerful detectives led by Zhuge Zhengwo (Anthony Wong). Trouble soon begins to brew for the Four when counterfeit coins begin circulating throughout the banks and merchants, but that soon becomes the least of their problems. The people behind the counterfeit currency, Lord An (Yu Chengui) and his son An Shigeng (Wu Xiubo) are actually after the emperor’s throne, with only the Divine Constabulary powerful enough to stop them.

That’s the basic plot for all three of the movies. The Four deals mostly with An Shigeng and the counterfeit currency while The Four II and The Four III deal with Lord An attempting to usurp the throne. I still can’t shake the feeling that I missed some stuff in these movies though. The way the story is actually plotted and executed isn’t all that good. There’s so many different characters that just start backstabbing each other and the movies all move at such a fast speed, it’s hard to keep track of everyone. One character in particular seems to have a different motive in every scene, which makes it literally impossible to make up your mind about her. Still, one of the better parts of the movies are all of the characters.

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I’m actually seriously surprised that all of the characters in this movie were totally three dimensional and had their own personalities. Maybe I shouldn’t have done this, but I went into these movies expecting mediocre martial arts with a huge cast of characters that I wouldn’t care about. I was wrong on both accounts. Let’s take Life Snatcher and Iron Hands, two characters that very often share scenes. They work great together because Life Snatcher is a thief and provides great comedic relief while Iron Hands is a man of discipline. It’s an odd couple situation that I wasn’t expecting to work so well. Since the characters are all likable and well fleshed out, when something happened to them I actually cared. They’re actually some of the best characters in martial arts movies.

Finally, lets talk about the actual kung fu. Simply put, it’s awesome. It isn’t Crouching Tiger, Hidden DragonHero, or House of Flying Daggers but it is really cool. One of the big things that makes The Four movies stand out is the super powerful characters. The powers are really just them channeling energy in themselves making them super strong or able to control things, but it’s still really fun. Whenever they throw their kicks or punches, splashes of color follow their limbs making it clear that they have the upper hand. Every contact is also heard quite clearly making it almost possible to feel their attacks. Really cool stuff and extremely entertaining.

The Four and its sequels provided me with a lot more than I was originally expecting. After just watching The Sorcerer and the White Snake, I was very hesitant to drive right back into martial arts, but I’m pleasantly surprised. These movies aren’t destined to be classics, but Gordon Chan has made three really fun movies that are great time wasters on a lazy afternoon. If you like kung fu, fantasy, and comic book super powers you should track down and find The Four Trilogy.