King Hu's last film was Painted Skin (Hua pi zhi yinyang fawang, 1993), a kung fu ghost story drawn from the Qing Dynasty literary classic Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio from which King Hu also took his inspiration for his Academy Award winning classic A Touch of Zen (Hsia nu, 1969).
An inferior scholar, Wang Hsi-tzu (Adam Cheng Siu-chow), meets a beautiful courtesan, You Feng (Joey Wong Cho-yin). She turns out to be a spirit imperiled by a demon lord, having escaped the dark realm wearing a human skin.
By accompanying her, the scholar ends up in a haunted between-realms region (the shadow realm between Yin & Yang).
In this realm, he encounters whimsical warrior monks of the Tao (Lau Shun & Wu Ma) who do battle against creatures of chaos, as well as with the more dour High Monk (Sammo Hung).
When the scholar becomes possessed by the fierce demon, the Taoists must find a way to destroy the demon without also destroying the body it inhabits. There is loads of fantastical action, much more over the top than King Hu's usual style.
Visually lush with lots of magic & unrealistic fighting, if Touch of Zen were used as the standard of comparison, then Painted Skin is a minor film with an unconvincing fantasy story to tell.
Commercial pressures had forced King Hu to take on more the tone of a film like Chinese Ghost Story (Sinnui yauwan, 1987) instead of adhering to his classical style. Even so, if the usual historical action pic from just about any other Hong Kong director were the standard, then Painted Skin is simply on a higher plain.
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