Director: Siu-Tung Ching
Stars: Jet Li, Eva Huang, Charlene Choi, Raymond Lam, Vivian Hsu
I guess The Sorcerer and the White Snake is the Chinese equivalent of a blockbuster. Big name stars, melodramatic romance, talking animals. Usually not my bag at all. Except I do enjoy interpretations of female snake demons that crop up in Chinese movies, and especially the sheer spectacle that Chinese cinema can produce these days.
Recent high-budget movies coming from this region have been technically and artistically astonishing - especially when combined with the rich cultural history they draw from. Director Siu-Tung Ching has seemingly marshalled a formidable army of CGI artists and set designers to realise a supernatural romantic blockbuster of epic proportions.
Obviously developed with mass-appeal in mind, there's something here for everyone, and should be enjoyable by anyone in the mood for a good popcorn flick. Jet Li plays a demon-hunting, kung-fu-fighting, flying sorcerer monk exhibiting god-like supernatural powers along with buddhist traits of patience, virtue and wisdom. Basically he's the man - as you'd expect in a Jet Li movie. He's so righteous he resists a harem of (bamboo) pole-dancing sirens as they lasciviously tempt him in one of the films saucier moments.
Meanwhile, two snake-demon sisters, known as the White Snake (Eva Huang, wow) and Green Snake (Charlene Choi) are frolicking about in the forest. White Snake spies a mortal that she fancies and soon enough a forbidden love develops between them. Misty-eyed yearning and professions of undying love ensue, accompanied by obligatory sweeping-epic mood music that signals melodramatic tension through frequencies designed to penetrate the subconscious emotion centers of your neo-cortex directly.
Thankfully melodrama is not the only aspect of this multi-faceted film. Fight sequences including aerial kung-fu, power-blasts and general mass destruction somewhat reminiscent of a playstation button masher occur regularly to break up the schmaltz. Demons take the shape of humans or animals, there's an army of mice, a talking tortoise, vampiric bat-demons and more. While obviously operating within a fantasy reality, nevertheless the supernatural back-story with ingrained buddhist philosophy seems self-consistent and was well thought through. At least to a gweilo like myself who is prepared to swallow any amount of eastern hokum pokum at face value.
The most impressive part of the movie for me was the visuals though. Although the CGI was over-used, and not always convincing, the many moments of sublimity redeem it. This is a spectacular looking film.
White Snake Eva Huang detracts from these visual aesthetics not a jot. Her starring role means she gets plenty of screentime and looks fabulously Revlon-esque throughout. Although several shots resemble high-gloss shampoo commercials, she and Charlene Choi fill the seductive snake duo roles with beauty and charm.
While the score is melodramatic at times, it has its moments of inspiration. Fight scenes are accompanied with room-shaking bass, and the sections of east/west fusion featuring operatic singing were effective and unique.
I imagine this would be a great movie to catch on the big screen, especially with a date or with family. Arthouse aficianados and fans of genre cinema should go in with expectations suitably adjusted. It is what it is - a popcorn blockbuster family entertainment. But as far as spectacle goes, you could do a whole lot worse.
NB: In the UK this has been re-titled The Emperor and the White Snake.