Aug 8, 2007

DVD Review: The Painted Veil

DVD Review: The Painted Veil, dir. John Curran, starring Edward Norton & Naomi Watts.

If you're a fan of W. Somerset Maugham and ever wanted to see what a Chinese orphanage looked like in the 1920s, then this is the film for you. If sweeping vistas of Guangxi's river valleys combined with shallow graves, grisly cholera deaths and misbehavior and redemption among the colonial British expats might put you off, then stay well away.

Edward Norton is a bacteriologist in Shanghai, working as a British civil servant, when he marries the young, pretty, shallow Naomi Watts. They both speak in passable British accents, and their tortuous relationship becomes more compelling the more you watch them. When things turn sour, Norton hauls his wife into "the interior," traveling two weeks up the Yangtze to the middle of a cholera epidemic. Liev Schrieber is great as the dashing vice-consul in Shanghai, while Diana Rigg plays a French Mother Superior and does not wear a catsuit.

Watching this was a strange experience for me, and I'm glad (I think) that the kids were already in bed. I spent about a third of the time looking at the locations - the beautifully filmed locations, I should say - and saying, "Hey! We've seen that! (Or, well, close.)" Sampans and gorges of tributaries of Yangtze, old villages with curved-tile roofs and narrow alleys, steep slopes covered with bamboo and rice paddies... it's all quite a lot like the area where our kids came from. And, of course, there's an orphanage in the middle of the story - one run by French nuns eager for more little Catholics, as Norton's character says.

I also spent a third of the time thinking, "Hey, I've seen that before!" because the whole thing reminded me of The Razor's Edge, only moved to China. Observe exotic scenery! Behold charming foreign children! See American actors discover their souls!

The rest of the time I was watching Naomi Watts and Diana Rigg. It's a solid PG-13 - there's some nekkidness ("nekkid" being like "naked" with trouble in mind) from behind and, well, cholera makes for a messy death. So that'd be a bit much for little kids, I think. On the other hand, it's a great window onto the history of European involvement in China, and especially the complications that come with charity as a colonial venture. "It would be nice to see our countries work on this project together without your guns pointing at us," as Anthony Wong's Colonel Yu puts it (more or less).

You can find more trivia about the production than you can shake a stick at on this Edward Norton page, and the movie's on IMDb over here.

::this article was taken from

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