Those fans of Asian cinema who remember Tsui Hark’s “Green Snake” would know what the premise of Tong Ching’s “Sorcerer and White Snake”. This film is a mainstream retelling of the Chinese myth about a 1000 year old demon (demons in Chinese myth are very different from the ugly demons from American movies) who falls in love with a mortal man. In Hark’s 1993 film, which was based on the novel by Lillian Lee, placed Green Snake in the lead role to undermine the Chinese myth. Tony Ching and company opts to create something more commercial and easy to follow as he sets forth an elaborate Chinese fantasy film filled with CGI and Kung Fu….I guess it is like watching something with a lot of Buddhist undertones and a lot of man versus demon kung fu.
For a very serviceable plot, Ching and company focuses on the tragic love story between White Snake Suzhen (beauteous Eva Huang) and herbalist Xu Xian (Raymond Lam) as the two meet in a very adorable manner underwater when Suzhen saves Xian from drowning. Sealed with a kiss, the two instantly fall in love. Suzhen and her sister Qingqing Green Snake (Charlene Choi) are the types of demons that are impish and yet they mean humans no harm. However, the love shared by Suzhen and Xian is an unbalance of the natural order since demons are not allowed to stay in this mortal plane of existence. This love puts Suzhen on a collision course with a Buddhist monk Fahai (Jet Li) who does not tolerate anything that can upset the balance of this order, no matter how benevolent a demon Suzhen may be.
Yes, you guessed it. Those who are familiar with the Chinese myth will be very disappointed with this film. It substitutes the intricacies of the myth to focus on the tragic love story between Xian and Suzhen. This is not a bad thing I suppose, since it does make the film more accessible to audiences and the film is very easy to like. I mean it has Jet Li who plays a role that made him, it also has kung fu action and spell casting with the undertone of Buddhist beliefs. It is the usual Hong Kong serving of ‘cute’ Chinese fantasy disguised as an epic, and I really don’t have much to complain about despite the deviations from the mood and tone of the intended adapted material.
The film makes some subtle commentaries about love. How it can blind, inspire, nurture, create, and sometime even lead to destruction. Yes, the themes of love are rich in the film and with Eva Huang in the lead as a captivating female lead, it is easy to be enthralled with the film. I have to say, as good as Eva Huang is in the role, Joey Wong’s majestic White Snake, but she is good nonetheless. Add the cute portrayals of Charlene Choi (oh, it is nothing compared to Maggie Cheung’s seductive portrayal of Green Snake) and her friendship with Fahai’s aide Neng Ren (Wan Zhang) who adds some comic relief to the film and the cute talking animals, you have a formula film that is almost certain to please mainstream viewers. There is a lot of things that made this film fun, and it is superior to “Butterfly Lovers” another more recent retelling of this age-old tale.
Jet Li is at his best playing the understanding and yet firm stoic monk Fahai. I mean Li knows how to use his acting skills to enhance this type of roles. He adds a certain feeling of intimidation while maintaining that sense of justice, he makes Fahai a very sympathetic character. The martial arts choreography were good as Ching is on familiar ground in this type of films. You see the signature Tony Ching cool posturing, slow motion and light effects to express the intensity of the fights which were a blend of kung fu and spell casting. It is all good, as Li makes the fight scenes with Eva Huang work. It was a little hard not to root for Suzhen's cause, but Fahai’s cause was arguably more in the right. I suppose in serving up a tragic love story, the screenplay wanted to send a subtle message that love cannot conquer all, and the safety of a universe is more important than two people in love. I am not sure, but maybe it was just me reading between the lines.
As much as I thought the film was entertaining and charming, the CGI work in the film was very uneven. They go from decent to bad, and from good to really fake looking. The animals, Bat demon effects and the Snake characters were very laughable. I mean, there is cheap looking, but the effects looked very fake with the creature rendering. The Green and White Snake personas did not blend well into the live action shots and never felt real. It was like I was watching a cheap B-movie rather than an elaborate Chinese fantasy. Not sure what went wrong, but it was almost as if the movie ran out of funds. I did enjoy the water effects and the light show when Fahai engages a demon, and I really enjoyed the Earth and Water effects when Li took on Eva Huang, despite the different quality in its CGI. I mean, as much as I wanted to really enjoy the film, the Visual effects really put a damper in my enjoyment.
“Sorcerer and White Snake” is way below quality for a film with Jet Li. But it was a lot better than “Empress and the Warriors” despite Li doing the Wu Shu in front of a green screen. Li wasn’t the film’s real star but rather Eva Huang who was better than I expected. The film should’ve been more ambitious and a lot more polished in its storytelling, I mean some scenes opened up some transitional flaws, but they weren’t that big to nit pick. Fans of cutesy love, fantasy aspects of a myth, delightful talking animals and martial arts action would like this film. Is this love? Whatever it is, it can find an audience.
A 2011 movie (directed by Tony Ching) with a twist based on a famous Chinese legend (The Legend of the White Snake). The focus in this movie is more about the monk, aka the sorcerer, acted by Jet Li. So yeah, I went to the movie just because Jet Li is the leading actor. For some Chinese, especially Hong Kong movie goers, the attraction is probably Raymond Lam. In any case, to enjoy the movie which is fast paced with some interesting … more