The China premiere of The Painted Veil last night at Shanghai Museum* had a red carpet and champagne (and prom decorations), but it didn’t have Naomi Watts or Ed Norton, the film’s two stars. Curiously, Norton was in Beijing on Friday for a Painted Veil press conference — why not have the main press conference and the premiere in the same city? Some of the Chinese stars of the film were in attendance, including familiar face Anthony Wong (黄秋生), who for some reason thought it would be a good idea to tuck his blue jeans into his cowboy boots (unfortunately, we haven’t found a photo of that).
The start of the premiere was delayed several minutes due to anti-piracy security with metal detectors at the theater entrance, and throughout the screening, security guards observed the crowd through what we assumed to be night-vision binoculars. We wonder if this was just for show — no one buys camcorder DVDs in December … it’s Oscar screener season!
The Painted Veil is the first foreign movie from Warner Bros.’s new China studios and, according to a speaker last night, the first Hollywood production shot entirely in China. (Some of it was filmed in Shanghai, but save for a CGI-enhanced shot of the Bund and the Huangpu our city isn’t featured much. Most of the action takes place in Guangxi.) Being kind of an historic movie premiere, we really felt for the organizers when the movie inexplicably went without sound for around 10 minutes halfway through — the screen went black, house lights came on but then sound came back again (and maybe saved someone from getting fired). Those 10 minutes were lost, however, because you can’t rewind those big reels of film.
And what of the film? Well, kind of a disappointment, really. It had all the right ingredients, but they just didn’t add up to anything special. Despite solid performances from the leads, The Painted Veil comes off as soulless — it’s hard to care about the characters. This could be a case of trying to stuff too much into two hours, or maybe just a director in over his head. Scenes that involve more than just the main characters come off staged and stagey and don’t ring true. Mob scenes in the rural village don’t look much more realistic here than in what you might find in a typical period drama on Chinese TV. We enjoyed John Curran’s 2004 film We Don’t Live Here Anymore (also starring Watts), but that was a much smaller production and a simpler story. The Painted Veil needed a director who could do bigger better.
Despite the efforts of the binocular-clad security force, we assume you will be able to find The Painted Veil on the streets of Shanghai pretty soon.
It doesn’t look like it will be making any more appearances in local theaters We just saw a poster that made it seem like The Painted Veil would openi n Chinese theaters on Dec. 29 … so maybe IMDb was wrong.
* It actually has a pretty nice theater … who knew?