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Original Title:
Ching Se

Hong Kong 1993

Fantasy, Drama, Comedy

Tsui Hark

Maggie Cheung
Joey Wong
Chiu Man Cheuk
Wu Hsing-kuo
Tony Leung Ka Fa
Anita Mui
Tien Feng

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Green Snake

Story: Two snake spirits, White Snake (Joey Wong) and Green Snake (Maggie Cheung), want to become human and would like to understand feelings like love. White Snake is the more experienced one of the two and has 500 years more training than her sister. So, she soon falls in love with the young scholar Hsui Xien (Wu Hsing-kuo) and marries him. Green Snake, however, is still trying to understand what human emotions are about and in order to get in touch with it a little bit better she attempts to seduce Hsui Xien.
At the same time buddhist monk Fa-hoi (Chiu Man Cheuk) is caught in his own crisis, because he is torn between his holy mission to rid this world of all evil spirits and his fleshly desire. On his first encounter with the two snake spirits he even let's them go unharmed, because they don't seem to do anything evil, but even try to help humans.
Someday, the monk recalls what his life and his hole mission is about and so he starts to hunt the snake spirits. White and Green Snake, however, have their own dispute to get over with and so the decisive showdown between the three finally takes place...

Review: Tsui Hark proves with his movie "Green Snake" that he surely is a master of visuality if he wants to. Breathtakingly beautiful pictures tell the story of two snake spirits, who desire nothing more than to become human. The story itself is based on an old Chinese tale and so it's no big surprise that we get to see an almost epic movie about love, hate, and fanaticism.

As already mentioned, what's really eye-catching is the great cinematography. With satiated colours and a keen sense of the director for small details, Hark creates sets, that all look like being composed to the very last item. The pictures even make a turn into dreamy and poetic realms at times. For example there is a small river with floating candles on it, or the house of the snake spirits, that will enchant you with its wonderful lake and garden, as well as with its wafting silk curtains. This poetry on screen without a doubt is the film's real strength.
Apart from that there are also lots of special effects, as not to be expected otherwise of a fantasy film, but unfortunately quality-wise they can't keep up with what Tsui Hark had in mind when shooting. The special effects look way too cheap and the director would have done better not to show a snake at all, than to display the huge plastic model of it we get to see here.

If it's Kung Fu fights you are looking for then you might get disappointed, because there is only lots of jumping/flying and magic. I understand that it's witty to use lots of fast and frantic cuts to bestow a certain amount of dynamic moves upon the fights and most of all to conceil the fact that the actors are actually just swinging around, hanging on wires. Yet, I still can't get used to this hecticness. It wouldn't have done the movie any harm if one had implemented one or two fights with a little bit more substance in them. To compensate the lack of true fighting scenes there is lots of inventive magic including magic formulas.

Being the two main actresses Maggie Cheung and Joey Wong can show what they are made of and they even don't really hold back with their feminine charm. Naturally, this doesn't mean that we get to see much (even though lots of skin), but there is always a constant underlying erotic tension throughout the movie, especially when the two are nestling with their human bodies as if they were snakes. This may have some lesbian inducement, yet to tag the movie as a soft porn flick because of its slightly erotic undertone, as some critics actually did, is a complete exaggeration! Maybe we just didn't watch the same movie...
Apart from their physical "actions" the two ladies can also convince on the acting level. Especially Maggie Cheung as Green Snake can imbue her character with far more complexity than what we might have expected from her.
Chiu Man Cheuk plays the fanatic monk Fa-hoi in a very well done manner and makes the viewer think about his real motivations and way of thinking more than once. The rest of the cast is also giving a nice performance and so there is not really much to beef about here.

"Green Snake" starts rather cheerfully and while we are introduced to the lifes of the two snake spirits we soon learn to love them. There are some really nice jokes interspersed as well, and moreover scholar Hsui Xien is also part of some really funny scenes, for example when the two sisters in the most abstruse ways try to hide the fact that they are actually two snake spirits.
As the movie progresses the drama of these two beings, who want to live in a world which is build according to a certain norm and in which self-proclaimed authorities proscribe their existence and their ideology, starts to become more and more apparent. These "authorities" are given shape by the monk Fa-Hoi and Tsui Hark once again proves that he seems to have made it his business to criticize politics and society by using allegories whereever he can. You can't deny the fact that Fa-Hoi in his gigantic red robe is supposed to represent China. The monastery in which Hsui Xien is sent really reminds us of a "re-education camp". But besides all these allegories, you shouldn't forget what "Green Snake" first and foremost really is: an entertaining movie, and nothing else. Forced political interpretation is therefore rather inappropriate. Tsui Hark's fantasy flick is all about the destiny of individuals, the freedom to love and blind fanaticism.

Fans of Chinese fantasy flicks will get their money's worth and won't get enough of the enchanting pictures. The music deserves a special line in this review, as it is exceptionally well-arranged and beautiful. It's just a shame that Tsui Hark's movie feels somehow like a mixed bag of comedy, fantasy and drama at times. Nonetheless, the film is really worthwhile thanks to its surprisingly complex story and interesting characters.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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