The Sorcerer and the White Snake 白蛇傳說
2011, colour, 2.35:1, 96 mins
Directed by Tony Ching (程小東)
By Derek Elley
Sun, 04 September 2011, 14:45 PM (HKT)
Uncomplicated chunk of Chinese legend, with plenty of CGI, action and entertainment. Outside Asia, largely ancillary.
Ancient southern China. After battling the Ice Witch (Vivian Hsu), who has sworn eternal vengeance against all men for their unfaithfulness, Buddhist monk Fa Hai (Jet Li) imprisons her soul in Leifeng Pagoda, where his pupil Neng Ren (Wen Zhang) is also based. Meanwhile, two sisterly snake demons, the white Bai Suzhen (Eva Huang) and green Qing (Charlene Choi), are surveying the human world at their leisure when Bai rescues young herbalist Xu Xian (Raymond Lam) from drowning and both fall for each other. Qing is annoyed at Bai's love for a human, but agrees to tag along with her as they both change into female form to find Xu Xian again. In the meantime, he has met Fa Hai and Neng Ren, who are hunting down vampire-bat demons that have been causing death and destruction in the region. All five meet up in a canal town during the Lantern Festival, during which Fa Hai and Neng Ren fight some vampire-bat women but fail to kill their leader, the Bat Demon. Next morning Neng Ren wakes up to find he's starting to change into a bat after being bitten during the battle, so Qing, who's come to like him, reveals she's a demon too. However, Fa Hai lets both Bai and Qing know that he will not tolerate demons and humans falling in love, and he'll kill both of them unless they disappear.
The much-varied Chinese legend of the female White Snake, her sisterly companion Green Snake and the Buddhist monk who seeks to prevent them becoming romantically involved with humans gets a full-scale, 21st-century CGI workout in The Sorcerer and the White Snake 白蛇傳說 (2011). Funded by Mainland sources but largely put together by Hong Kongers, it's a different kettle of fish from previous versions, with none of the staginess of Shaw Bros.' operatic Madame White Snake 白蛇傳 (1962) nor the sheer sensuousness of TSUI Hark 徐克's much later Green Snake 青蛇 (1993), with Maggie CHEUNG 張曼玉 and Joey WANG 王祖賢. Like most of action maestro Tony CHING 程小東's movies (A Chinese Ghost Story 倩女幽魂 (1987), An Empress and the Warriors 江山美人 (2008)), it's an uncomplicated mixture of stunts, setpieces and local elements aimed directly at an Asian audience, with no special depth to the characters or their emotions and a plot that's simply there to keep the action coming. Combining Mainland and Hong Kong names, smooth special effects (especially for the two snake women) and a tight running-time of just over one-and-a-half hours — thank you, editor Angie LAM 林安兒 — it's a professional, entertaining package but with no special signature to make it a must-see.
As the Buddhist monk who's rigidly opposed to any contact between humans and demons — even snake demons in pretty female form — Jet LI 李連杰 is now of an age and bearing to convincingly play such authoritarian characters. Hong Kong's Charlene CHOI 蔡卓妍 is well cast as the younger, peskier Green Snake and has good comic chemistry with Mainlander WEN Zhang 文章 (who previously played an autistic son to Li's father in Ocean Heaven 海洋天堂 (2010)). But despite Li topping the bill, the movie is basically a showcase for Mainland actress Eva HUANG 黃聖依, 28, who debuted in Stephen CHOW 周星馳's Kung Fu Hustle 功夫 (2004) and has more recently become a favoured employee of Sorcerer funder Juli Entertainment Media Co Ltd 巨力影視傳媒有限公司. As the White Snake who falls for a naive young herbalist (TVB contractee Raymond LAM 林峰, adequate), Huang has the looks and charisma to handle a good-evil role like this one and only needs to develop a warmer screen presence to back them up. When she and Choi are on screen together, the latter still steals the show.
The copious visual effects, which dominate the movie's second half with floods and water battles, are especially good for the two snake women — smooth and silky without becoming overtly sensuous. But it's where the CGI is properly integrated with live action that the movie takes off, as in a battle between Li's monk and some female vampire-bat demons in a crowded canal during the Lantern Festival. In this section, William CHANG 張叔平's richly coloured production and costume design combine with Ching's action direction for genuine fun and thrills, all backed up by Mark LUI 雷頌德's heroic symphonic score.
The Mandarin print that premiered at the Venice International Film Festival was an "international" version, shorn of one sequence in which some 3-D animated animal characters — that distractingly pop up here and there — briefly appear in human form, played by local names such as Miriam YEUNG 楊千嬅, Chapman TO 杜汶澤 and LAM Suet 林雪.
In China, the film is also known under the English title It's Love.
ContactSales: Distribution Workshop, Hong Kong (email@example.com)
Premiere: Venice Film Festival (Out of Competition), 2 Sep 2011 (int'l version). Theatrical release: China, 29 Sep 2011 (original version).
Presented by China Juli Entertainment Media (CN). Executive producer: Yang Zi. Producer: Chui Po-chu.
Script: Carbon Cheung, Tsang Kan-cheung, Szeto Cheuk-han. Photography: Venus Keung. Editing: Angie Lam. Music: Mark Lui. Title song: Choi Jun-yeong. Production design: William Chang. Art direction: Zhai Tao. Costume design: William Chang. Special make-up: Beijing Cinemorph. Sound: Ronny Ching. Action: Tony Ching. Stunts: Huang Minjian. Special effects: Guo Shizhen. Visual effects: Sunny Ryu (Younggu Art Studio, Stingray Studios, Menfond Electronic Art, Different Digital Design). Underwater photography: Tony Lam.
Cast: Jet Li (Master Fa Hai), Eva Huang (Bai Suzhen/Susu, White Snake), Raymond Lam (Xu Xian), Charlene Choi (Qing, Green Snake), Wen Zhang (Neng Ren), Jiang Wu (Tortoise), Vivian Hsu (Ice Witch), Miriam Yeung (Rabbit), Chapman To (Toad), Lam Suet (Chicken), Angela Tong (Cat), Wang Yi'nan (Monkey), Sonija Kwok (Green Mansion woman), Law Kar-ying.