In 'Painted Veil,' China Is Ready for Its Close-Up

A scene from 'The Painted Veil'

hide captionEdward Norton plays a doc in China who would rather study medicine than pay attention to his wife. Lighten up, Ed — it's Naomi Watts!

Painted Veil Productions, LLC

The Details

Movie: The Painted Veil

What It Is: A made-in-China version of the W. Somerset Maugham novel about a distant doc, his lovely wife and his fight against cholera.

Now Playing: In New York and Los Angeles, with more cities to come on Dec. 29.

Every third film you see from China these days seems to feature the Forbidden Palace, but the rest of China is what's really forbidden, especially to foreign filmmakers. The Painted Veil lifts the veil a bit. Where the Greta Garbo version of W. Somerset Maugham's epic about a cholera epidemic was made on Hollywood backlots, the new Ed Norton/Naomi Watts version plunges deep into the heart of China — the first Western film to do so in decades. It was made by U.S. filmmakers with a Chinese crew and will be exhibited in China as a Chinese film. The story of an emotionally distant doctor and his unfaithful wife is backed by some truly spectacular mountain vistas. The filmmakers set a lengthy sequence in an 800-year-old village that has not been touched by modernity, and Shanghai's colonial district even doubles for 1920s London. Sumptuous and smartly acted, The Painted Veil can be experienced as both a romantic wallow — and a vivid travelogue.

Bob Mondello regularly reviews movies for All Things Considered.

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