Women are the victim and the token of conquests, the symbol of power and masculinity.
But when a woman of ravishing beauty and exquisite charm comes into contact with the need to possess, the two combust at once, burning, spinning and weaving a cobweb of love, hate, exasperation, and finally, resignation.
Jane Zhang – Painted Heart:
She lies there half naked on a platform, poised, frail, and elegant. Around her, are the greedy barbarians with out stretched arms, eager to tear the piece of fur veiling her body in shreds, ready to glide their dirty fingers through her curtain of jet black hair. They yarned to touch her, possess her, and succumb to the earthy pleasure of carnal desires…
The king of the barbarians pushes through, kicking unworthy underlings from his path and claims his treat from the platform under the roaring cheer of the excited bystanders.
She lets herself be picked up and carried to the chamber of this barbarian before her. Amused, she traces a finger along the contour of the king’s rough face and smiles. “Come beauty, I will do anything for you. My heart is already yours.” Not realizing the irony of his words, the king urges coarsely as he feels her hand resting on his chest. “Oops, now it is.” With another smile, his hot heart is torn out of his chest, still thumping with all the potency of its former owner.
The village army attacks the fortress. The general fights his way into the chamber and sees her, half covered in blood, shivering in fright and screaming with all her might before the dead man. She crooks her head and scrutinizes him briefly in curiosity as he slashes the barbarians guarding the tent. Their gazes lock, he throws a large cloak at her and nods to her that he is there to take her away. She parts her mouth in slight astonishment — she hasn’t seen a man who didn’t want her. He cuts across to her and picks her up with one hand, swinging her around and tucks her safely under his arm. She welcomes the heroic gesture with a smile and grabs onto him as tightly as she can.
Ever since being rescued from the barbarian fortress, Xiao Wei follows general Wang Sheng to his city and naturally becomes his long term house guest.
At the city gate, Wang Sheng’s wife Pei Rong welcomes her husband’s victorious return with cordial happiness mingled with the pain of seeing him coming back after endured a multitude of hardship. Distantly, Xiao Wei watches with cold eyed envy as the couple immerse in the merriment of reunion.
One night, a ragged man faints in front of the city gate and is brought into Wang Sheng’s house. His name is Pang Yong, the former commander of the army that’s now under Wang Sheng’s wings. Pang Yong was a man beloved by all who followed him and feared by all who opposed him. Honor, success, and respect, he owned them all. But he gave it all up to live the life of a vagabond because of a pair of jade pendants…
… Pang Yong, Pei Rong, and Wang Sheng were close friends once. Detrimental to all friendships, Pang Yong fell in love with Pei Rong. He gave her a pair of jade pendants and told her to give the pendant to the man she wants to spend the rest of her life with. The next day, Pang Yong discovered that Pei Rong has given the jade pendant to Wang Sheng. Out of sheer dejection, Pang Yong left everything behind to escape the reality he must come to terms with…
Pang Yong’s return to town stirs a ripple in Pei Rong and Wang Sheng’s relationship. Pei Rong is placed in the difficult situation of trying to both take care of an intimate old friend and keep enough distance to appease her husband’s implicit suspicion. Xiao Wei on the other hand enjoys the invisible awkwardness very much and savors the brief moments when she can have Wang Sheng all to herself.
When Pang Yong finally wakes up after three days of drugged state, he gathers his saggy belongs and wastes no time to flee the Wang residence. He finds himself a tavern to lodge in. Without a penny on him, Pang Yong manages to get by and settles down on the door step to dump the sand that has accumulated in his boots. A gust of wind sends more sand his way, he turns to look and sees a boyish girl shaking the sand off her cape. Her name is Xia Bing, the granddaughter of an exorcist.
Pang Yong is more similar to Xia Bing than he would like to believe. Realizing it or not, this similarity attracts them to each other like magnets, that on New Year’s Eve, when everybody else is home celebrating, they are the only gusts at the tavern, indulging on hot pot without owning any money to pay for it.
Although penniless, they still gorge on food and chug on wine merrily. Not too much time has elapsed, Pang Yong spots Pei Rong, as poised as ever, approaching him with the look of apprehension. She positions herself across from him and starts, “I suspect there is a demon in the house.” The mention of demon perks Xia Ping’s attention. She looks up from her wine. Pei Rong continues…
… Three months ago, Wang Sheng destroyed a group of bandits on his way back to the city. He brought back with him a homeless girl called Xiao Wei. Xiao Wei is the self-claimed daughter of a silk trader Gao Kun, who was framed and killed. After her family’s misfortune, she was sold to the local barbarians where Wang Sheng found her.
… Pei Rong treated Xiao Wei like a real sister, but a series of strange events made Pei Rong uneasy about this innocent looking girl whom everybody fell in love with instantly. Xiao Wei’s arrival brought about the onset of mysterious deaths at night. The corpses all have one thing in common — their heart has been ripped out of their chest. Pei Rong’s suspicion thickens after witnessing Xiao Wei controlling the will of the customer with one meaningful look. She went to a shaman, the man confirmed that Xiao Wei is a demon, a very powerful demon. But the next day, the man is found dead, and his heart, taken out. In the days after that, Pei Rong kept her concerns to herself until one day, while cutting a large fabric, she accidentally cut Xiao Wei. Horrified, she yells for the servant to bring down the medicine box. But when she turned, Xiao Wei’s hand has healed itself. Pei Rong is certain that she had seen the wound, yet there it is, nice and whole.
…Pei Rong revealed her worry to her husband, who has been patrolling the streets every night, hoping to catch the morbid culprit. He brushed her concern off as a figment of her imagination…
Pang Yong answers Pei Rong’s call for help and decides to find out the truth. Xia Bing tags along. Meantime in the Wang residence, the lizard demon appears in Xiao Wei’s room and offers her a box of cut up human hearts to show his total devotion. Xiao Wei winces at his ugliness and chastises him for making Wang Sheng patrol the streets every night and indirectly causing her the time to spend with Wang Sheng.
Pang Yong follows one of his old friends to the storage site for the corpses. Xia Bing confirms that the murder is done by a demon and takes out a jar containing a fragment of the fox demon’s tail — it’s cut out by her grandfather. The piece of tail glows whenever the fox demon is near. Watching it emitting soft, yellow light, Xia Bing confidently tells the men that Xiao Wei must be the fox demon.
In the process of the investigation, Xia Bing is attacked by the lizard demon, who attempts to get Xia Bing off the fox demon’s back for her. Pang Yong chases him off and helps Xia Bing to the tavern where Xia Bing reveals that she has a magical sword that can kill any kind of demon, no matter how powerful. Except, she can’t unsheathe the sword.
The next day, Pang Yong, Xia Bing, and the only other person in town that doubts Xiao Wei’s innocent enter the Wang residence to confront Xiao Wei for fabricating her origin. Xiao Wei admits lying, but, she pleas for forgiveness. “I am no silk trader’s daughter, I am his maid. But I meant no harm. I only sought acceptance.” The onlookers nod in understanding and dismiss Xiao Wei’s dishonesty as a self-protective gesture. Xia Bing walks up holding the glowing fox tail and accuses Xiao of being a demon. Courtesy gives way to offense, Wang Sheng would not have such “nonsense” in his house. Only when Pei Rong bravely asserts that any precautionary test is necessary, did Wang Sheng yield to Xia Bing’s requests.
Xia Bing proposes to check Xiao Wei’s body, because most demons have a demon’s mark on their body. When no such mark is found on Xiao Wei, Xia Bing decides to stay with Xiao Wei and monitor all her movements, because the fox demon needs human hearts to replenish her painted skin, and the best way to catch Xiao Wei is to keep her from getting human hearts.
That night, Pei Rong apologizes to Xiao Wei for exposing her to the humiliation of unclothing before strangers. Xiao Wei shrewdly seizes this opportunity to stab Pei Rong for being jealous and confesses her desire to share Wang Sheng. Only, “sharing” is a stepping stone to elevate her status in the Wang household. In Xiao Wei’s cupidity for this mortal man, there is no sharing, there is only absolute possession of body and soul.
Facing Xiao Wei’s earnest plea to become his second wife and Pei Rong’s heart breaking sobbing at the idea of sharing a husband, Wang Sheng walks over and explicitly tells Xiao Wei that there is only one Mrs. Wang, and that woman is Pei Rong.
Xiao Wei returns to her room to rest after Wang Sheng’s rejection, Xia Bing follows after. The lizard demon slips in to deliver the cut up heart in a box unnoticed. Before walking out, he grimaces at Xia Bing and sticks his lizard’s tongue at her. She senses something and turns, but he’s no longer there. Xiao Wei takes in the moment and retrieves the box of heart from behind Xia Bing. She holds the box offers, “I have some sweets here, would you care to try some?” Xia Bing refuses, answering, “I don’t want you to poison me.” Xiao Wei enjoys a private joke and asks, “You still think I am a demon?” Raising her chin pridefully, Xia Bing replies, “I don’t think you are a demon, I know you are one.”
The next day, news of more murderers releases Xiao Wei from her 24-hour supervision. By then, Wang Sheng is convinced that the talk of demons is only childish hearsay. He asks Pang Yong to help seek out the true culprit instead. Pang Yong patrols the streets at night and witnesses the lizard demon killing his friend. Everything happens so fast that when the rest of the patrolling troops arrive at the crime scene, they mistake Pang Yong for the killer. The demon hunt is officially made impossible.
Out of guilt (and sheer stupidity), Pei Rong considers making Xiao Wei Wang Sheng’s second wife. She asks her husband whether he would fall in love with Xiao Wei if she weren’t a demon. Wang Sheng is unrelenting. He dogmatically believes that Xiao Wei is just an ordinary woman and that his one and only wife is Pei Rong. Yet that night, he dreams of Xiao Wei again.
… In a misty, dark cave, he drifts around, hair loose, robe loose. He seeks something that he knows not and wanders to the center of the cave. Before him, a murky lake that glows green and blue and white. He gazes at it in wonder and watches as Xiao Wei emerges from the the water, lips parsed, completely naked. Trembling, he reaches out to her…
… They consummate hungrily under the moonlight, their shadows entwine in the lake, their bodies consume by desire…
Wang Sheng wakes in a startle. He sees a shadow outside his window and chases out, only to find himself outside of Xiao Wei’s window. He enters.
Xiao Wei is crying. Wang Sheng approaches her and asks, “What’s wrong?” Hiding her face from him, Xiao Wei tests, “I think I should leave.” Wang Sheng bends down on her side and replies, “Remember I said I will take care of you? Like a sister.” Not liking the emphasis on sister, Xiao Wei probes once more, “Am I that, useless?” “That’s not true. Gao Xiang, Jing Ping, and Jing An… Everybody knows they all like you very much. I don’t think there is anyone that doesn’t like you.” She turns then and looks him straight in the eye, “But I want you to like me.” Wang Sheng stands up, not sure what to do. Xiao Wei follows him, “Have you ever liked me?” (This dialogue makes them sound like a bunch of angsty teenagers.) Wang Sheng looks away to avoid answering. Reading his hesistation, Xiao Wei walks closer to him and tells him, “I don’t need anyone; I don’t want any title. I just want to be your woman. Even if for one night.” She pulls down her robe to reveal a bare shoulder. He reaches out a hand to stop her and pulls the robe back on her shoulder. Tears of dejection stream down Xiao Wei’s cheeks.
Suddenly, the lizard demon jumps in from the window and aims at Wang Sheng’s throat. Wang Sheng ducks in time to avoid the sharp point. But the lizard demon strikes again. The commotion wakes the entire household, patrolling soldiers sought the source of the sound and besiege the lizard demon. Mad with jealousy, the lizard demon attacks Pei Rong, thinking her death would ease the pain Xiao Wei is feeling. Pei Rong ducks in time but drops onto the ground. In that instant, she turns and sees her husband standing by Xiao Wei’s side. Her heart sank. Wang Sheng rushes toward his wife’s side, helps her up, and asks, full of concern, “Are you alright?” Xiao Wei watches in shock. Immobilized by sadness at first, then hatred slowly creeps into those clear eyes.
Ushering his wife to the bedroom, Wang Sheng coos softly that everything is fine now. Facing his gentleness, Pei Rong only asks curtly, “Why are you in her room?” “I…” Wang Sheng starts but couldn’t find the words to explain. (How could he ever explain this one? Oh yeah, like: I had a horny, disturbing, but orgasmic dream. After I woke up, my instincts lured me to her room, but really, I didn’t want to go. No, really.) Pei Rong sighs and decides that perhaps she should step aside and let Wang Sheng marry Xiao Wei. Wang Sheng is enraged by Pei Rong’s lack of trust, “In actuality, it’s you not believing that I can resist.”
Despite Wang Sheng’s plea for trust, Pei Rong decides to take the initiative to involve Xiao Wei in the family. She traverses to Xiao Wei’s room, knocks, and enters. Xiao Wei, seated with her back towards Pei Rong, takes off her painted skin on purpose. Pei Rong is shocked by the revelation and runs out screaming. Once out of the vicinity of Xiao Wei’s influence, Pei Rong calms down and gathers herself. She returns to negotiate with Xiao Wei but only witnesses the fox demon killing another person and eating the dead man’s heart in front of her. Gathering her wits once more, Pei Rong asks Xiao Wei to stop killing innocents in town. If being Mrs. Wang is what Xiao Wei wants, she can get out of the way, as long as everybody else can be safe. Xiao Wei chuckles at Pei Rong’s naivety and hands her a glowing potion. Pei Rong must drink it and become the escape goat for Xiao Wei.
Pei Rong drinks the poison in one gulp and transforms into a monster. Her frightful appearance subjects herself to the derision of townspeople. They throw rotten tomatoes at her, cursing, swearing to burn her alive. Pang Yong descends from the roof at the crucial moment, he carries a dying Pei Rong on one shoulder and escapes, with Xia Bing’s help, to safety.
Wang Sheng and a group of troops follow Pang Yong to find Pei Rong. He hushes his followers and approaches his beloved wife. “Are you really the demon?” He asks. Watching Xiao Wei in the distance, Pei Rong inhales deeply and lies, “I am the demon. I killed everyone.” The soldiers erupt into a loud booing, urging Wang Sheng to kill the demon. “Quiet! If she is the demon, I will kill her!” Silence falls. “But as a husband,” Wang Sheng’s voice reduces to a listless whispers, “how can I forsake her?” He throws away his helmet, then armor, and pulls out a dagger. Kneeling down in front of his wife, he whispers to her, “No matter what you did, we will face the consequences together.” “I am a demon. I deserve to die.” “You are my wife,” Wang Sheng leans closer, “whether you are a human or a demon, I still love you.” Comforted to hear Wang Sheng’s vow of love, Pei Rong thrusts the dagger into her abdomen with a smile. “Promise me,” she says with her last breathe, “live. Live for me.” Then her head drops.
Overcome with grief, Pang Yong grabs his spear and hacks into Xiao Wei while screaming, “LOOK! SHE IS THE DEMON! SHE IS THE DEMON!” Xiao Wei is untouched by the spear, she stands planted on the ground, her eyes glued on Wang Sheng. The men gasp first in surprise, then in pity. Wang Sheng turns with sorrowful eyes. He gets up slow and walks toward Xiao Wei slowly… She stands and stares at him. He walks up to her and stabs the dagger into Xiao Wei robotically before dropping, knee first, to the ground. (This scene is funny, in a morbid way.) She watches this pitiful man before her, suddenly a despairing pain penetrates her and she lets out a long, long scream.
“Give her back to me. If you love me, giver her back to me.” Wang Sheng begs. “If you love her so much… why don’t you die with her?” Xiao Wei sobs gently. “I’ll give my life for her life… I love you, but I already have Pei Rong.” Wang Sheng stabs himself and drops to the ground.
Holding Wang Sheng’s corpse, Xiao Wei opens her mouth to release her demon’s soul. She plans to use it to save Wang Sheng. The lizard demon snatches it and painstakingly persuades Xiao Wei, “Don’t be silly. You are a demon. Even if you saved them, they won’t let you go. When I kill the rest of them, I will take you home.”
A fight ensues, resulting in Xia Bing pulling out the magical sword at the last minute, Pang Long sacrificing himself to kill the lizard demon, and the lizard demon disintegrating into pieces.
Having experienced so much emotional turmoil, Xiao Wei finally understands. She is letting go. She smiles at Xia Bing and breaks the two demon’s souls. A shower of glitter washes down from the sky, bringing the dead back to life and bringing home the demon to where she belongs…
This recap has been sitting there for a month, I finally wrote it!
I am throughly disappointed. The sets are gorgeous, the acting convincing, but it lacks depth in many, many ways. Perhaps love is too big a topic to tackle in an hour and half, but there is no clear theme accomplished at the end of the hour, not enough character development, very little subtly, and really, not much of a storytelling either.
A few complains:
Dear Wang Sheng, your wife is not the only one not having faith in you. I don’t either. Give me one instance of you trying to resist the temptation, anything will do.
“I’ll love you, whether you are a human or a demon.” is melodic when someone is on the verge of dying, but it doesn’t resonate because we never get to see how deeply Wang Sheng loves his wife. And besides, how much could he possibly love his wife if he has to split a piece of that to love Xiao Wei?
Speaking of Pei Rong, I would be more impressed if her bravery manifests in a way where she battles the demon with her wits instead of foolishly believing her sacrifice will worth the suffering.
Finally, the white fox is so pretty! They should’ve showed more of it!