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Posts Tagged ‘demon’

The Undead Pool by Kim Harrison

August 1, 2014 1 comment

The Undead Pool

The Undead Pool by Kim Harrison (The Hollows 12) (Harper Collins, 2014) is what I’m supposed to label urban fantasy but, having ploughed through it, the reality is more romance than anything else. Although we’re dealing with a complex world of mixed species — supernatural and human — with different types of magic on display, I found the characters completely uninvolving and the fantasy weak and wimpy. I suppose this is a gender phenomenon. This author has been churning out books which hit the New York Bestseller lists, so I’m forced to conclude she has a loyal group of female fans who lap up this “heady” mixture of sex and magical mystery. As a mere male, it left me completely cold.

 

Our hero, Rachel Morgan, is a female demon. As this book begins, she’s been providing security for long-time love interest, the top elf in Cincinnati, Trent Kalamack. So far, despite all the temptation, they have only managed a kiss, but the storm signs have already been raised. Deeper sexual attraction is in the wind and likely to sweep all before it. The “problem” is the presence of Ellasbeth. There’s a political move to displace Trent from the elven ruling council because of his “association” with the demon. The price for retaining all his wealth, power and influence is marriage to Ellasbeth. If Trent were to comply, it would obviously be emotionally devastating to Rachel but, in the interests of keeping the peace, she’s preparing herself for the loss.

Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison

 

Except, of course, there’s a real brew of magical mayhem in the cauldron. While she’s on the golf course, she discovers the hard way that her magic is suddenly rather unexpectedly stronger than she was expecting. What’s supposed to be a simple spell to deflect an incoming golfball from the tee, explodes the ball and leaves a new sandtrap just waiting for the sand. This is the first sign of a wave of what overstimulates every spell as it’s being performed. To add to the disturbance to the force, all the master vampires fall asleep. This is going to kill them and, more importantly, leave the rank and file vampires without anyone to control them.

 

All this leads to opportunities for characters to build friendships and alliances while being prepared to make sacrifices if the situation requires it. When interests are threatened, it’s all going to come down to people making the best decisions they can, hoping they can trust those they work with. Needless to say, love prevails with Rachel and Trent finally coming together at the end. A bitterly frustrated Ellasbeth leaves the city with nothing (and not before time, some might say). I find myself slightly puzzled at my lack of response to this book. Objectively, the author is doing the right things. There’s a mixture of adventure situations with magic thrown in to add a little extra spice. Except despite there being opportunities for our couple to be in danger (including quite a long sequence when our couple on horseback are hunted by demons), I was bored. For some reason, the tone of the book fails to even vaguely resonate with me. When I’m looking for some excitement (any excitement), all I find is flat, functional narrative prose and characters who fail to inspire any interest. Given the vast popularity of this author, I acknowledge I’m on the losing side of this debate. So I will make my usual apologies and leave this book to the legion of women readers who obviously lap up this type of urban fantasy as if it’s the best thing since the invention of sliced bread.

 

This book was sent to me for review.

 

The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams

September 29, 2012 4 comments

In the distant past, Anon and Trad were able to take their time, honing phrases until they were elevated to idioms by popular acclamation. The idiom most relevant to this book depends on a pun. Yes, even in the 18th century, people liked to play with the meanings of words. For our purposes, the magic word is “dull”. In physical terms, this refers to a surface we would expect to be polished, but it has lost its shine, or it’s a reference to the fact a liquid is opaque. In metaphorical terms, it’s anything that’s boring or unexciting. As you will by now realise, the idiom is “dull as ditchwater” and it applies with full force to The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams (DAW, 2012). For those of you who care about such things, this is the first in an intended series featuring the lead character who goes by the name of Bobby Dollar, an Angel actually named Doloriel. So, yes, we’re back in the land of the Christians and I’m obliged to remind readers that I’m a committed atheist so you can judge the extent to which my review is biased.

Now we’ve cleared the decks, here we go with the set-up. Bobby is one of the advocates. For those of you not up on the processing of the recently deceased, all the souls have to go through a judicial process to decide where they end up. That means both Heaven and Hell assign lawyer/advocates to argue the toss over whether you should get the fields of gold with optional manna or delicate flame-crisping around the edges for eternity. Not unnaturally, these partisan advocates need the inside dope pretty quickly, so every soul has a permanent guardian angel and devil who oversee the life and then give a quick precis to the advocates on death. That’s billions of postmortal workers kept in gainful employment by the big governments of Heaven and Hell, two for each soul while alive and two for the trial process. Then there are all the civil servants who have to allocate cases to the advocates and generally administer the system. And that’s before you get to all the celestial and hellish beings needed to run Heaven and Hell as laid down in the original design specifications and make sure that all the expected amenities are up to snuff.

Tad Williams with head and top lip laid bare

Now we have all that clear, this is a Christian meets a PI theme as Bobby Dollar gets embroiled in an investigation to find out why he’s suddenly on a hit list. I pause at this point to smile indulgently. Since angels are already dead, you might wonder why anyone should want to “kill” him. Well, to walk around on Earth, all postmortals have to occupy human bodies and these can be killed, a termination which sends the souls straight to their relevant HQs without passing Go and collecting the two-hundred dollars. It’s also relevant to mention that this killing of the host body is potentially painful and, if a little torture was to be involved, it could make the return to HQ long and excruciating, no matter which direction the soul was heading. It turns out there’s been a conspiracy between high-up members of Heaven and Hell and our hero gets caught up in the backwash. So, to get himself off the hook and avoid the death of his human host, Bobby has to crack the case, walking the mean streets until he gets the answers and sees justice done.

I suppose all this could have been quite interesting — the idea of corruption in Heaven is by no means original since angels have been falling from grace over the centuries with some degree of regularity — but the execution of this book is terminally dull. It’s rare for me to struggle to finish a book but, to be honest, I almost didn’t bother to finish this. The only thing that persuaded me to plough through the turgid prose was mild curiosity to see why the particular high-up angel had been tempted into this particular deal and just how far he/she/it would go to cover it up. Oh dear. My brain was only working with the same enthusiasm as a 5 watt light bulb. This is the first in a series. Of course we’re not going to find out who the senior conspirators are until the final book. Perhaps it may even turn out it’s actually God who’s upset by the current black-and-white system and wants to change it. I mean just look at how unfair it is. You can lead a life of average quality and then, through the luck of the draw on which advocates you’re allocated and the judge you get to hear your case, you could end up in purgatory for eternity. It would be much better if there was a via media, a middle way in which ordinary people could be sent to a quiet place to retire. Although it might lack the amenities of Heaven, it would not punish disproportionately for mild sins — an altogether fairer outcome on dying.

So The Dirty Streets of Heaven has a vaguely interesting premise and the way in which our hero disposes of the nasty beast sent to kill him is quite pleasing. Otherwise, don’t bother. I suspect even the most dedicated of Christians will be bored to tears by it all — assuming they don’t find it blasphemous, of course.

For a review of another book by Tad Williams, see Diary of a Dragon.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

The Iron Khan by Liz Williams

November 8, 2011 Leave a comment

The Iron Khan by Liz Williams (Morrigan Books, 2010) is the fifth Detective Inspector Chan novel featuring the ever-expanding cast list from the previous novels plus a new villain, the eponymous Khan, who’s working his way up through the ranks of time to become the leader of as many different armies as he can conscript. This is quite an ingenious idea as the Khan wheels and deals his way through different times and dimensions, negotiating with local leaders or simply acquiring troops as he goes along. It’s not so much that he’s immortal. Rather that he’s managed to develop the power of drawing on the local magic to renew himself. Not surprisingly, his social reputation suffers as this includes a sadistic delight in sucking the life out of those he captures, which makes him a kind of vampire, but not the traditional blood-sucking variety.

So off we go with Inspector Chen himself summoned to Heaven to investigate the loss of an important book, while Zhu Irzh and Jhai fly off on a business and pleasure trip to look at the site of a new chemical plant. This leaves Inari and the familiar badger in the capable hands of Miss Qi, a Celestial warrior, as a blast from the past lands them in the Sea of Night rather closer than they would like to the ship on which the Empress of Heaven has been confined (supposedly for everyone’s safety). To make life more exciting, we have some very old mummies come back to life (only one of which survives), meet a ghost or two, watch a Japanese warrior come into his own, and find an old explorer to offer advice and assistance when the going gets tough. It all gets mixed together with considerable style (although I do confess to losing the badger at one point) as the Empress tries to recapture the power she once enjoyed and the Khan moves steadily forward in time until he arrives in Singapore 3 (after it gets put back where we expect it to be, of course). To find out why the Earth (although not the air) goes through several different versions, you’ll have to read this book.

Liz Williams looking a little fuzzy round the edges

Interestingly, we’re adding ever more different sets of belief systems and their respective Heavens and Hells. The entire Earth is a literal mosaic of different overlapping dimensions (none of which are supposed to fold together although they can co-exist side-by-side — linking people together so they can travel separately but together is not very logical since there’s no guarantee transport of equal speed would be available in each dimension). And that’s not forgetting the Between through which knowledgeable people can sneak or entire populations can escape to at a push. Then we have the little warrior en ventre sa mere who seems to be making an impression on everyone when the situation requires it. So it’s a busy universe.

One of the less pleasing changes has been the tone. When we started off on the Inspector Chen series, the feel of the prose was more formal and there was a general crispness about the entire enterprise. The Iron Khan has a more diffuse, slightly chatty style in which Liz Williams seems to be more directly narrating the story than acting as a dispassionate author. There’s also a slightly more free-wheeling approach to the plot development. Although everything does hang together quite neatly, I’m not wholly convinced the Khan emerges as a really credible threat. He’s left rather more in the shadow without us getting a clear look at him, while the Empress comes from the other side as a known quantity, but equally doesn’t really seem fully realised as dangerous. She lurks and only manages a little magic until her major effort at the end.

Then comes the very strange epilogue or separate short story titled The Lesson in which we see something of Chen’s early life as he goes through some weird kind of therapy to remember something important about his past. My confusion comes from the copyright reservation which is only for The Iron Khan. An additional short story is usually the subject of a separate assertion of authorial rights, but I struggle to see this as adding anything to the broader narrative of the novel. Finally, a general comment about the typesetting. We have a depressing number of widows and orphans, and in many instances, the kerning and tracking is terrible. I understand it takes a little longer to produce pagination that’s aesthetically pleasing, but it’s worth the effort. If a publisher is going to produce text with perfect justification, a little more thought should go into the typesetting. Then, we have the extraordinary appearance of hyphenation in The Lesson. Quite simply, this is wholly unprofessional.

So, ignoring the physical production problems, this is not one of the best Chen novels. If you’re going to do “good” vs “evil”, the “evil” should be better defined and the prose style should be more formal. The chatty tone is not quite right for the subject matter. Nevertheless The Iron Khan is an enjoyable romp as well-liked characters go through their paces. Since, at one point, it was doubtful this novel would ever see the light of day, it’s reassuring Liz Williams has negotiated the difficulties and emerged with a new book to her name. What’s scheduled to be the final Inspector Chen book for now is called Morningstar and is due at the end of 2011. I shall acquire it to see where the story goes next.

Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

The jacket artwork by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law is particularly pleasing.

For other reviews of books by Liz Williams, see: A Glass of Shadow, Precious Dragon, Shadow Pavilion, Winterstrike and Worldsoul.

Painted Skin or Hua Pi (2011) — episodes 28 to 34 (the end)

October 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Well, as in all “well-written” scripts where the aim is to draw out a thin story to infinity and beyond, Pang Yong (Li Zong Han) arrives too late and the vital witness is struck down by the lizard demon Xiao Yi Yi (Dong Ao Yan). Now we get into further boredom as Xia Bing (Wu Ying Jie) is allowed to test out the vixen Xiao Wei (Fiona Sit). They visually inspect her for blemishes that would prove her a demon and then try to starve her of hearts so that her skin will fall off. Our vixen smiles serenely throughout, admitting to having lied about her background because she was ashamed of her poor parents. All the young single men think this lets her off the hook and ogle her lasciviously. In any event, the lizard goes out and takes another heart so the vixen is proved innocent in the eyes of the prejudiced men. Defeated, Xia Bing leaves the city (for two days). Fortunately, Pang Yong misses her. It’s always a good sign with the couple that fights fears the silence. Now the lizard insists the vixen treats the eyes of the blind Susu (Xinzhi Lei), so he picks up three pairs and gives the vixen the choice of which to insert.

Xiao Wei (Fiona Sit) showing her human and vulnerable side

Susu wakes up in the usual cave with 20×20 vision, but has no idea what Big Foot — the name she gave to Xiao Yi Yi — looks like. She goes to Pei Rong (Chen Yi Rong) for help. Big Foot did give her a name but, when Pei Rong investigates, this man died four years ago. Using his cloak of invisibility, the lizard watches in despair since he fears Susu’s reaction if he manifests in his lizardiness. The forces of law and order led by Wang Sheng (Ling Xiao Su) also suspect Susu’s involvement because why else would someone steal eyes if not to help a blind girl see. This subplot does have some life about it and Pang Yong remains highly watchable, but the core element of Wang Sheng, Pei Rong and the vixen has become tedious to the point of being almost unwatchable.

At last, there’s an interesting development. It turns out Papa Rong was only pretending to be nuts. He was actually making a special device that would signal when rain was coming and how long it would last. Damn clever these early Chinese scientist types. We could do with that today. No-one would ever be caught outside the house without an umbrella. Why have this device, you ask. Because he’s worked out our lizard hates the rain. Damned observant, what?! Well, once the vixen tumbles to this little deception, she’s quick to fake a suicide to get rid of the old guy before he comes up with the parallel device to actually make rain.

Pang Yong (Li Zong Han) and the lizard Xiao Yi Yi (Dong Ao Yan) discuss the weather

Now we have half the remaining police and army trailing around the town and countryside watching Susu which is not the most entertaining television. From time to time, our lizard thinks about appearing but is afraid of Susu’s reaction, so he focuses all his energy on changing himself into a human. After great effort, he manages it and Susu gets her first sight of the “man”. Having previously fought with this “man” and lost, the combined forces decide to wait for rain before taking him on again. Remarkably, Wang Sheng finds the rain predictor so they have an ace in the hole. Except not everything is smooth sailing for the lizard when Susu discovers she’s courting a murderous demon. He’s devastated and promises to give up the murderous bit and take her away from it all. The vixen is deeply jealous of this love but does nothing to interfere. Susu makes a run for a meeting with her demon lover and Xia Bing is in pursuit.

Wang Sheng (Ling Xiao Su) and Pei Rong (Chen Yi Rong) acting as husband and wife

The meeting is forestalled as the vixen intercepts the lizard on his way to Susu and blackmails him into stealing another heart for her. This leaves Susu stood up and, when asked by Wang Sheng, she agrees to lure her demon lover into a trap. This fails despite the delightful deployment of an early water canon, but the lizard is injured and Susu dies. This threatens to break the relationship between the two demons and the lizard plants evidence implicating the vixen. In a desperate move, the vixen asks Wang Sheng if she can be his concubine. He’s shocked (funny how he never saw that coming) and rejects her, affirming there can only be one Mrs Wang. Now the gloves (and the skin come off) with Pei Rong. The demon says many will die unless she gets her way, so Pei Rong agrees to become a demon and take all the blame. She drinks the magic potion, develops a pasty complexion and grows the ears to match.

Xia Bing (Wu Ying Jie) trying to get her act together as an exorcist

To drive her out into the open, our vixen kills one of the guards and threatens more deaths. This has the desired effect and Pei Rong staggers out into the town, expecting to be cut down. Fortunately, Pang Yong picks her up and carries her off while Xia Bing throws on a quick disguise and leads the towns folk in the opposite direction. Later, all the interested parties meet up in the usual cave. With the vixen looking on, Wang Sheng throws himself at Pei Rong’s feet and says he doesn’t care she’s become a demon. He’ll always love her. Pei Rong looks at the vixen and then commits suicide. Well, this inspires Pang Yong to strike a blow with his guan dao that should have cut Xiao Wei in half. When everyone recovers from the surprise at seeing his blade bounce off, our vixen strikes out at the massed troops and police officers, killing them all. The lizard demon materialises and offers Pang Yong a few pointers. This leaves Xia Bing to finally capture the knack of anointing her sword with her own blood. She stabs the vixen and slows her down. A timeout is called and she offers Wang Sheng a deal. She will resurrect Pei Rong if our hero dies. Without blinking, Wang Sheng fall on his sword. This surprises the vixen. It seemed not to occur to her that Wang Sheng would sacrifice himself to bring back his wife. In a complicated move, Pang Yong also dies which just leaves the two demons and Xia Bing to decide what’s to happen.

The vixen now claims to understand the nature of love so surrenders most of her energy to revive everyone. She and the lizard retreat to the lake. In due course, the inevitable principals meet for the final time. Xiao Wei apologies to Xiao Yi Yi for not being honest in reporting Susu’s final words of love for Big Foot, no matter what he looked like. Overcome with emotion at his lost love, the lizard jumps into the lake and dissolves into the afterworld. Xiao Wei then speaks to both her sisters. She tells Pei Rong to stand by her man (fortunately, we don’t have Tammy Wynette’s vocal) and Xia Bing to do right by Pang Yong. By this time, there isn’t a dry eye in China as true love overflows from the lake. Then Xia Bing uses her grandfather’s sword and kills the vixen. In the final shots, domestic bliss restored to the Wang household while our two adventurers set off on the road to killing more demons. In a final touch of drama, the exorcist and her mate stop for some tea and tell their story to Pu Songling. History says they finished before he died of old age, but only just.

Painted Skin or Hua Pi (2011) — episodes 1 to 11

Painted Skin or Hua Pi (2011) — episodes 12 to 19

Painted Skin or Hua Pi (2011) — episodes 20 to 27

Painted Skin or Hua Pi (2011) — episodes 28 to 34 (the end)

Painted Skin or Hua Pi (2011) — episodes 20 to 27

October 24, 2011 Leave a comment

On refection, I think our vixen Xiao Wei (Fiona Sit) deliberately revealed herself to Pei Rong (Chen Yi Rong) to provoke her into outbursts of accusation no-one would believe. After all, everyone knows demons are ugly. How could anyone as beautiful and refined as the vixen be a demon? It’s so completely unbelievable even if you believe in demons. Living with LinLin, Pei Rong has a peaceful life but, when LinLin so obviously sides with her sister against the vixen, the lizard demon Xiao Yi Yi (Dong Ao Yan) is sent to kill her. This is a desperate blow. Everyone is upset but when Pei Rong so publicly accuses the vixen, it’s revealed she has an ironclad alibi. Now the world thinks Pei Rong is crazy. When the vixen seems to be making friends with her parents, Pei Rong is further provoked, but her father wisely advises her not to be so obvious unless and until she has evidence. Under her father guidance, Pei Rong apologises to the world and goes back home. Wang Sheng (Ling Xiao Su) comes back to her side in relief there’s been a cure. The vixen is less than pleased.

Pang Yong (Li Zong Han) compulsively watchable even when drunk

Now we have the development, we’ve all been waiting for. This triangle has become boring and, finally, Pei Rong writes a letter to call Pang Yong (Li Zong Han) back to the city. How she knows where to find him is not something we need to be worried about. In a masterstroke designed to revive our interest to the maximum, the scriptwriters finish their coffee break and summon Xia Bing (Wu Ying Jie) into the city. With casually violent incompetence, she teams up with Pang Yong who spends most of his time in a drunken stupor. He’s either shamming or has become a full-blown alcoholic. Obviously he needs a good woman to save him.

His first step back to sobriety is to believe Pei Rong is threatened by the vixen. He may be an unbeliever on the demon front, but he’s terminally loyal. On New Year’s Day, Papa Rong is revealed as a case of Alzheimer’s. As he wonders the countryside, he comes across Pang Yong. Independently, the vixen is doing her butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-my-mouth act and is also using her powers to find the father. This gives Pang Yong and the vixen the chance to exchange a few verbal pointers. Pang Yong makes it clear he will not tolerate anyone trying to break up the happy couple.

Xia Bing (Wu Ying Jie) an annoying and, so far, incompetent exorcist

To test him out, the lizard attacks Pang Yong while drunk and finds him formidable. The exorcist has left a demon trap in the same room. This wounds the lizard and he runs off. Pleasingly, he now meets Susu (Xinzhi Lei), a blind girl. Ah, romance is in the air as she names him Big Foot and makes shoes out of processed straw for him to wear. Meanwhile, the exorcist has recognised Xiao Wei and attacks her in her bedroom. This does not go down well with Wang Sheng who has her arrested and carted off to jail. In her exchanges with the lizard demon, it’s apparent the vixen is not making much progress in understanding what human love is. She can contrast the difference between her own feelings for Long Yun (Qi Yu Wu) and, now, Wang Seng, but she’s lost when she sees the relationships between Wang Sheng and Pei Rong and Pei Rong’s parents. She also deceives herself that her own frustrated attraction to Wang Sheng is the same as Pang Wong’s feelings for Pei Rong. She’s obviously still not connecting up the dots on the real meaning of human love.

The vixen (Fiona Sit) and Pei Rong (Chen Yi Rong) pose as if friends

Pei Rong uses the chef to enable Xia Bing to break out of prison. Our exorcist is now on the run, but teams up with Pang Yong to investigate the string of murders. This has brought the serial back to life. Pang Yong proves himself an able investigator even though an alcoholic. He wanders round the past, examining the accounts of how the different murders took place, he goes to view the scenes of crime and builds up a profile of the killer as a skilled martial arts expert who is a master of the lizard style of fighting. Xia Bing parallels him, explaining how this is a lizard demon. Because Pei Rong interfered, Xiao Wei has her tame lizard kill the chef but, interestingly, the shoes the blind girl made are shedding bits of dried straw. Our Big Foot lizard is leaving clues wherever he goes.

Ling Xiao Su as Wang Sheng is the most boring hero of all time. How anyone can love him is beyond me. Not only is he undemonstrative. He’s not very intelligent either. Li Zong Han is wonderful on screen as Pang Yong. Drunk or sober, he demonstrates real charisma and, in his emerging relationship with Xia Bing, gets to make us smile. In this, Wu Ying Jie as Xia Bing is genuinely annoying and, it seems, unable to master her exorcist’s bloodline to become effective. Nevertheless, she’s the grit in the most recent episodes to lift our interest and make Li Zong Han an even better pearl.

Susu (Xinzhi Lei) the tragic blind girl with the heart of gold

Pei Rong grows increasingly worried by Pang Yong’s alcoholism, but nevertheless invites him to her father’s birthday celebration. Meanwhile Xia Bing and the local wannabe fortune teller read her grandfather’s notes and find a suggestion they can tell the difference between a human and a demon by their shit — the food may be the same but the results differ. They decide to put a laxative in the wine at the birthday party. This has great comic potential. The party itself shows Papa Rong drifting ever deeper into Alzheimer’s. Naturally he forgets his own daughter and thinks the vixen is his daughter married to Wang Sheng. At least Pang Yong is sober enough to see the vixen is deeply jealous of Pei Rong before he wanders off to the kitchen and drinks down what’s left of the dosed wine. Now as the banquet speeches for the toast come to an end, the rest of the guests sip their drinks and notice the strange taste. After the drunken Pang Yong berates Wang Sheng for being a useless husband, his bowels react. Unfortunately all comic possibilities are wasted. Pei Rong is so distressed, she persuades Xia Bing to start a campaign to sober up Pang Yong. Fortunately, she succeeds so he’s able to fight off the lizard demon when the poor beast blunders into one of the traps. Xia Bing then declares Pang Yong to be one of the Able Ones — talented fighters who can assist exorcists to subdue demons. The wounded lizard goes to Susu who binds up his wounds and serves him food. Perhaps real love is blossoming there.

Xiao Yi Yi (Dong Ao Yan) looking lizardy

At last, Wang Sheng wakes from his slumbers and identifies the bits of “straw” found at the scene of the murders. He interviews Susu and finds her suspicious. Shaken from her daily routine, Susu also visits Pei Rong and gets advice on men. Meanwhile, our lizard demon asks the vixen to cure Susu’s blindness. She’s sceptical, saying Susu will not like what she sees. The lizard is adamant it will be all right. Meanwhile Pei Rong has asked a merchant to check on the vixen’s claimed origins. He comes back saying no-one had heard of the family in the area nominated but, in another area, a Xiao Wei has gone missing. Pei Rong passes this information on to Xia Bing who sets off to investigate with her new fortune-telling sidekick. Later Pang Yong is worried to find them gone. Then he finds the missing person notice and sets off in pursuit.

Painted Skin or Hua Pi (2011) — episodes 1 to 11

Painted Skin or Hua Pi (2011) — episodes 12 to 19

Painted Skin or Hua Pi (2011) — episodes 20 to 27

Painted Skin or Hua Pi (2011) — episodes 28 to 34 (the end)

Painted Skin or Hua Pi (2011) — episodes 12 to 19

Well, times have not been easy for the vixen Xiao Wei (Fiona Sit). She’s on the run and looking the worse for wear with her flesh starting to break down for lack of food. Demons, you understand, must eat the odd human or two if they want to stay healthy. Her abstinence, while laudable, is possibly going to be fatal. Taken in my by an unsuspecting family, she finally gives into temptation and takes the skin of Xiao Hong (Yang Mi) the maiden of the house. As she makes her attack, a lizard demon Xiao Yi Yi (Dong Ao Yan) who loves the maiden from afar, intervenes but is not strong enough to prevent the killing. Because our vixen now looks like the maiden, the lizard transfers his affection. Some demons are really shallow creatures. He brings her a human heart to eat, but she decides the best food is from someone who loves her. Fortuitously, the maiden is about to be married so this gives her the chance. As she sets off in the wedding procession, Xia Bing (Wu Ying Jie), the granddaughter exorcist, comes into the area. She has a magic lantern that glows red when a demon is near. When it takes her close to the wedding cortège, the vixen uses her powers to disturb a nest of hornets which keeps the exorcist away.

Xiao Wei (Fiona Sit) as the vixen demon lurking

Meanwhile, our unhappy couple of Wang Sheng (Ling Xiao Su) and Pei Rong (Chen Yi Rong) have not married. No-one apart from Linlin and her new husband approve of the relationship. After a year, Pang Yong (Li Zong Han) appears and asks two questions: to the first, “have you ever loved me?” she makes no reply; to the second, “do you like him?” she replies in the affirmative. He leaves but returns when the couple finally decide to go through a second marriage ceremony. There’s a short fight where Pang Yong demonstrates he has the better physical skills to protect Pei Rong, but when Wang Sheng says he matches him in love, Pang Yong wanders off into the night leaving his guan dao as a wedding gift.

Our vixen is having trouble persuading her new husband that she’s the same lovable girl he wanted to marry. She may have the looks but not the winning personality. When she tries to use magic to cook and weave for him, she exhausts her energy and her new skin starts to degrade. The harder she tries, the more she proves she’s not the girl he expected to marry. In the end, she attacks him in frustration that he fails to love “her”, and then wanders off, followed by the lizard who’s still superficial and hooked only on appearance. Our vixen allows herself to be captured by a group of bandits led by Shao Luo (Zhao Yi). His wife died and he can’t forget her but she covets him. She eats the heart of the second-in-command and blames masked attackers. She fakes a wound on her arm and Shao Luo decides to be “protective” towards her. He heals her “wound”. Saying she’s lost everything, she offers to stay on as his maid — that’s demon speak for mistress.

Two years after the marriage our couple remain unhappy, missing Pang Yong and wishing they could go back in time.

Pei Rong (Chen Yi Rong) looking decorative

Xia Bing is still wandering the countryside (and deserts) in search of the vixen. The desire for revenge is a powerful motivator. Now Wang Sheng and his troops are also in the desert looking for more bandits to kill. In yet another sneak attack (does this man have no shame as a military commander?) Wang Sheng makes good progress, kills the bandits and “rescues” the vixen. Funny how fate works out. Now the vixen is living in the same house as Wang Sheng and Pei Rong, burrowing from within. She’s learning to cook and whittle wood from Wang Sheng and grows interested in Pei Rong’s beauty business. There’s just one problem. The lizard demon doesn’t like the wet weather and isn’t going out to look for hearts. Her skin is starting to peel. Fortunately, Pei Rong’s business is the manufacture and sale of cosmetics. They cover up a lot of the skin problems.

When there’s a fire in the house next door, Wang Sheng discovers he’s afraid of fire after the destruction of his home town by the bandits. The vixen counsels him and probably calls down the spirits of his mother and father to comfort him. Linlin warns Pei Rong against this beautiful person in their home so Pei Rong responds by making the vixen her sister and organising a search for a suitable husband. After all, the vixen is entitled to find her own happiness in marriage (and it gets her out of the house). This section has been slow moving as patterns of jealousy form and are dispersed. So far, Ling Xiao Su as Wang Sheng remains wooden and so is unmoved by the vixen although they did manage a hug at the graves of his parents. That’s always the best way to thank your counsellor for doing a good job at talking you through a crisis of confidence.

Wang Sheng (Ling Xiao Su) protests having to wear a silly hat

Now the issue of marrying off the vixen comes between the happy couple only for the vixen herself to agree to marry their choice. As she says, they are both beholden to her now for getting them back together. The demon lizard is getting into the spirit of this search for love and, to protect himself and the vixen from suspicion, he frees a local killer who took the heart of his victim out of revenge. When the lizard kills, all the locals believe this is the work of the same killer, except no-one can understand why he should continue to take hearts (including the intended husband for the vixen — odd coincidence he should be one of the victims). Wang Sheng is on the case and tracks our lizard to a cave. Having absorbed the villain’s sword style, the lizard beats Wang Sheng and leaves him for dead. Our vixen knows where he is, uses some of her demon power to stabilise his condition, and then drags him back to the city — she’s trying really hard to win him over.

The city is up in arms and, with Wang Sheng their leader, the troops and police combine forces. When the lizard attacks Wang Sheng again, the vixen saves him by making it rain. But this exhausts her and she refuses the lizard’s help to get a restorative heart. Pei Rong sees her take off her skin to do a running repair job with cosmetics. Now, the cat is among the pigeons (as opposed to the fox among the hens) if only she can make anyone else believe. She leaves home out of fear while Wang Sheng haunts the streets hoping the killer will appear again — Wang Sheng is a sucker for punishment. Shame he doesn’t believe in demons.

Painted Skin or Hua Pi (2011) — episodes 1 to 11

Painted Skin or Hua Pi (2011) — episodes 12 to 19

Painted Skin or Hua Pi (2011) — episodes 20 to 27

Painted Skin or Hua Pi (2011) — episodes 28 to 34 (the end)

Painted Skin or Hua Pi (2011) — episodes 1 to 11

September 25, 2011 2 comments

Painted Skin or Hua Pi is a 36 episode serial broadcast on SZTV. It’s loosely based on some of Pu Songling’s classic short stories published in Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio or Strange Tales of Liaozhai. It also expands the plot of the film of the same name, adding substantially to the backstories of the characters. Written in the late seventeeth century, Pu Songling’s stories deal with the sometimes complicated relationships between humans and various types of supernatural being. This particular series focuses on a demon who has taken the form of a vixen.

Ling Xiao Su as Wang Sheng in armour but without the silly helmet

On the run from a forced marriage, Wang Sheng (Ling Xiao Su), a Prince, frees a vixen not knowing this is Xiao Wei (Fiona Sit) a demoness caught in a special trap. He’s kind, binding a wounded paw, and, when she later takes human form, she’s determined to thank her rescuer. The marriage he’s seeking to escape is with a young girl, Pei Rong (Chen Yi Rong). She’s being blackmailed. If she does not marry, the lord will kill everyone in her family. The Prince rescues her and sets her free. Arriving too late to save her is Pang Yong (Li Zong Han) the lifelong friend. Not to worry. He’s a useful man to have around in a fight.

Li Zong Han as Pang Yong before the real sadness sets in

Meanwhile Xiao Wei comes into town and snacks on one or two humans before befriending the apprentice to the demon hunter Xia Ying Feng (Law Kar Ying) who first trapped her. We later learn her name is Xia Bing (Wu Ying Jie). The vixen who would be human discusses matters with the old exorcist, Xia Ying Feng. Although he’s a dedicated and effective demon hunter, he’s also a drunk with a sentimental streak, so he gives her the chance to become human subject to the condition that, while still a demon, she neither loves nor hates humans. Unfortunately, she already “likes” the Prince who rescued her, but that’s a problem yet to rear its head. Xia Ying Feng says he will kill her if she loves a man. She agrees and becomes his apprentice. At this point, we can see all the main characters. Frankly, Ling Xiao Su is wooden, but Li Zong Han has a wonderfully dangerous air about him whether as a brother in a fight or when the light of jealousy comes in his eye. Chen Yi Rong is the epitome of female cool — intelligent, hard-working and quite beautiful in a restrained way — Fiona Sit contrives to be an effective demon although her tail is silly. Sadly, Wu Ying Jie is weak and uninspiring so far. Hopefully, she’ll improve later.

Fiona Sit and Qi Yu Wu — some love's just not meant to be

Now we have two strands: the Prince, Pang Yong and the forced bride on one team, and the three exorcists including the vixen on the other. At this point, bandits come and burn down the town. Our six survive, but the Prince’s parents are killed. Three of the bandit leader’s son are also killed and this triggers a feud.

Later on the trail, the demon hunter with his two lady apprentices in tow, enters a town and finds everyone dead. The apprentice Xia Bing can see into the past when she touches a dead body. It seems a demon was about to be executed and called down forces to kill everyone. This is strange. If he was so powerful, why did he not resist capture? Independently of their arrival, the local lord calls in a well-known young hunter, Long Yun (Qi Yu Wu), to deal with the demon. Except, of course, the local lord is the source of the problem. He covets the wife of the man he tried to execute not knowing she’s the real demon. When he invents the charge of being a demon and tries to execute her husband, she rescues him with rather more enthusiasm than might have been wise. Unfortunately, even though unable to kill the husband, he has him in prison. His wife does a deal with the demon hunter Xia Ying Feng. If he rescues her husband, the old man can kill her human form and return her to the demon form. She agrees to sacrifice herself to see her husband free.

Xia Ying Feng, his apprentice Bing, the vixen and the young hunter must now combine their forces to rescue the husband. The old man and Xia Bing first attempt a frontal assault which fails. A more subtle approach then sees the old man pass himself off as a fortune teller and persuade the lord to let the husband go. From the lord’s point of view, this is a trap to lure out the wife. But the tables are turned, and everyone walks away. Then, in a dramatic and quite moving scene, the wife is killed by Xia Ying Feng and flies away as a swan (later we see the man caring for the swan in a cave). Now the young hunter declares his love for the vixen. Unfortunately, in the spirit of honesty that all humans should learn from, she reveals her true form and he cannot take it, running away to drown his sorrows. Hopefully, he will see the error of his ways.

Chen Yi Rong as Pei Rong taking time to make up her mind

Meanwhile, Wang Sheng, Pei Rong and Pang Yong have moved to Pei Rong’s city where the Prince is loved from afar by Linlin. When he turns her down, she jumps from the city walls. Fortunately, she has a protector who tries to catch her. In breaking her fall, he is badly injured. This breaks down the barriers between the two locals who declare their love for each other. The triangle between our principals grows more intense as Pei Rong cannot bring herself to tell Pang Yong she can never go beyond the brother stage with him. Her vague hints are simply misunderstood.

Pang Yong goes to his foster parents to ask for Pei Rong’s hand. She refuses him but the arrival of the bandits prevents Wang Sheng and Pei Rong from admitting their love to him. Everyone thinks it better to focus on beating the bandits before sorting out their love lives. However, during the heat of battle when our heroes and their troops attack the bandit camp while most are still sleeping — who cares about fair play as long as you win — Pang Yong sees the Prince wearing Pei Rong’s jade token. The Prince confesses their love which encourages Pang Yong to greater efforts. He slaughters almost everyone in the enemy camp within range and then walks off. The Emperor is impressed by this victory and appoints the Prince the Commander of the army. Reluctantly he agrees but the men are unhappy, believing Pang Yong is the better man. I should note how silly the helmets make the men look. Wang Sheng, in particular, is forced to fight in an absurd conical affair.

Wu Ying Jie as Xia Bing out for revenge

Meanwhile the vixen demon seeks comfort from Xia Ying Feng and his apprentice. They give her love (in the platonic sense, of course) and she’s just starting to recover when Long Yun reappears and asks her to marry him. When Xiao Wei agrees, Xia Ying Feng pulls out his sword and strikes at her. Our young hunter takes the blow and, after much soul-searching, the old man allows the vixen to live. They go off to get married with the old man watching with a sentimental smile from a distance. Unfortunately, our young demon hunter has returned only to kill the vixen. He attempts to trap her in the wedding bed. Unfortunately, she’s too strong. The old man realises the plan and tries to save him. The young man escapes, the old is left dying. The vixen pursues her love only to find she cannot kill him. Her love is too strong. The apprentice finds Xia Ying Feng only to have him die in her arms. Before he dies, he names her as Xia Bing, his granddaughter. She has the blood of an exorcist and, with practice, can become the greatest in the land. Having buried the old man, she vows vengeance on the vixen.

One years passes.

Painted Skin or Hua Pi (2011) — episodes 1 to 11

Painted Skin or Hua Pi (2011) — episodes 12 to 19

Painted Skin or Hua Pi (2011) — episodes 20 to 27

Painted Skin or Hua Pi (2011) — episodes 28 to 34 (the end)

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