The Painted Veil
The movies we feature in Been-Seen's Movie Atlas are usually filmed on location and strictly in the real time period. However we occasionally feature movies (filmed on location but out of time) that are just too stunning to leave out. Take The Talented Mr Ripley, which shows the island of Ischia in Italy in decadent splendor. Another such movie is The Painted Veil, set in 1920s China but filmed in the 21st century.
It tells the tale of Kitty Fane (Naomi Watts), who marries her husband Walter (Edward Norton) for all the wrong reasons, and ends up in a cholera-stricken Chinese village. The film, based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham, is at times painful but utterly poignant. The scenery, however, is endlessly breathtaking. It's the kind of landscape that really stops you in your tracks.
It's also the landscape in which the rather narrow-minded and vain Kitty learns to live her life with greater meaning (and, rather curiously, actress Naomi Watts converted to Buddhism after filming here).
In choosing the setting for the movie, director John Curran was looking for somewhere 'both beautiful and gothic'. Location scouts covered about 5,000 of mainland China in ten days looking for the right setting – an ancient town, close to a river and mountains. It also had to be relatively close to modern amenities for production purposes. They settled on Guangxi province in southern China.
Production centered around the city of Gui Lin on the Li River – which is surrounded in lush greenery and unfeasibly dramatic mountains, perhaps the 'gothic' element in the movie. It's hard to believe mountains can actually take shapes like these naturally. The crew considered building the village of Mei-tan-fu but luckily scouted out an unspoiled town called Huang Yao that saved them the effort. 'It's an 800-year-old city, which essentially exists the way it did 800 years ago,' says Curran.
This was the first Western film to be filmed in China in a long, long time, and even London scenes were shot in Shanghai. 'We've been able to shoot in places and with people that America hasn't seen before,' said the movie's star Edward Norton, a student of Chinese history who poured his heart and soul into the production.
As they made the movie in collaboration with Chinese filmmakers, it's interesting to hear about the cultural issues which the crew had to overcome (watch this video). Thanks to censorship, geographical limitations and language/cultural barriers, it wasn't an easy shoot by any means but, from the look of this movie, it seems it was well worth the effort. RM