The other night we turned on our television to our one English language channel. Yep, you heard that right. There is exactly one channel on television where we can hear English spoken — Channel six from Hong Kong. Generally speaking, there’s not too much that interests us on this channel. We sometimes catch the Hong Kong News or yesterday’s David Letterman. So, expecting nothing, we were delighted and surprised to be captivated by an actual, English language movie that was obviously shot on location in China. With authentic scenery, period costumes, authentic dialogue in both English and Chinese (with English subtitles), we saw the clear marks of a joint American-Chinese production.
Filmed on site, we immediately recognized the breathtaking topography as the magnificently beautiful area around the Li River in Guangxi Province. The film is worth watching if for no other reason than the eye candy of this beautiful area of the world shot with loving cinemetography.
The character development was also superb, with the film maker taking his time in an unhurried yet never tedious way to show the experience and development of each character. The excellent pace of the movie lies in sharp contrast to the Chinese tendency to take things a bit too slow and to be a bit shallow in developing a caricature, or the American tendency to speed through time in a shallow and superficial way and to use casual sex as a symbol for "having a relationship."
Moreover, to my surprise, the film actually seemed authentic to the experience of what it is like to find one’s self living in China. A young couple already stressed in their own relationship, and isolated from each other, find themselves surrounded by an alien culture, with only one or two English speakers within easy travel distance, only the most rudimentary of support systems, and then challenged almost beyond measure by a cholera epidemic and the anti-British sentiment that eventually led to the end of Colonialism.
Needless to say, the experience of moving to a remote area of rural China during the 1920’s was significantly more challenging than the experience of moving today to a modern Chinese city. I don’t claim to compare the two experiences in any more than a superficial sense of "wow, I can relate." Nevertheless, I could particularly relate to the bewilderment, the overwhelming nature of the experience, the challenges of overcoming cultural and communication barriers. I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but suffice it to say that the spouses eventually do rise above themselves, are successful, and do overcome these challenges. But their experience in China results in overwhelming personal cost. In a sense then, the film is both tragic and uplifting at the same time. It is not a story for a person who seeks a one-dimensional view, and I definitely would not recommend it for children.
The film is titled "The Painted Veil" and to my surprise, based on reviews I looked up on the internet, it appears to be a relatively new release. The only explanation for its appearance on television must be that it was a joint Chinese – American production. I suspect there would be no real market for it in China. In the USA, it probably will only appear in art houses, and so it may only be available in your area on DVD. Though screen would be better, I highly recommend it even if you can only find it on DVD.