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Original Title:
Bai she chuan shuo

China 2011

Fantasy, Romance, Drama

Ching Siu-Ting

Eva Huang Shengyi
Jet Li
Raymond Lam
Charlene Choi
Wen Zhang
Miriam Yeung
Lam Suet
Chapman To
Vivian Hsu

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The Sorcerer and the White Snake

Story: White Snake (Eva Huang) is a snake demon and together with her sister Green Snake (Charlene Choi) she lives in an idyllic place untouched by human civilisation. However, one day White Snake watches herbalist Xu Xian (Raymond Lam) wandering in the mountains and saves his life when he falls into a river. Xu Xian believes that his experience might only have been a dream but he doesn't give up his wish to see the girl again one day. In fact, White Snake can't forget the young man either and so she decides to enter the world of humans. She meets Xu Xian again and eventually the two get married.
In the meantime the buddhist monk Fahai (Jet Li) is chasing after a bat demon and while at that he runs into the snake demon. His companion and student Neng Ren (Wen Zhang) even gets close to Green Snake without knowing who she really is. Fahai isn't interested in Xu Xian and White Snake's love joy, therefore he wants to banish the demon. He even tells Xu Xian about his wife's true form so that things eventually lead to a catastrophe.

Review: I have to take up the cudgels for fantasy romance flicks now. They may be corny but since they are playing in a world in which everything is a bit more colorful and just more fantastic this in fact doesn't pose that much of a problem! At least that's what I thought with "The Sorcerer and the White Snake". In this special effects-loaden family film about fate and love as well as the natural order as the border between the realm of humans and otherworldly beings there is a lot of heartache and drama. Oftentimes it is also laid too thick but in a world where snake demons can take on a human form, Buddha has his computer-generated protective hand over his believers and even the animals are able to talk this shouldn't really be a problem! This is simply a fairy tale presented in a modern wrapping. Fairy tales often draw complex stories in a simplified manner and with imaginative pictures and they of course rely on the reader's - or in this case viewer's - willingness to get involved in this kind of presentation. Those who are still child enough in their hearts resp. are into fantasy will therefore be able to have quite some fun ride with "The Sorcerer and the White Snake".

The story has actually been adopted numerous times already. The legend of the White Snake has been told in China for a long time, but it wasn't before the 17th century that it has been written down for the first time by Feng Menglong. Since then there have been several adaptions of the material. Here an academic comparison of the motive of White Snake with the Melusina subject of the western culture would be great. There are some eye-catching parallels to be found here. Not only the snake body from the breast downwards (in the original version) but also the fact that religion doesn't tolerate the marriage between a human and an otherworldly being comes to mind. Here, there is naturally no Catholicism but Buddhism which is going on a witch hunt in the shape of Fahai. The most famous movie adaption of the material is Tsui Hark's "Green Snake", but here the story isn't centered around the supporting character, but in a stricly conventional sense stays with White Snake.

The movie's focus actually lies on White Snake so heavily that Jet Li without a doubt only gets a pretty raw deal. This may be quite a disappointment for many, especially since there is no one in the movie Li can engage with in an impressive fight, but personally I found it quite refreshing that Fahai is only a supporting character. As the main lead his character would have been too shallow anyway. Fahai is a monk who believes in Buddha's teachings and enforces them with strictness and rigidity. If the situation demands he can also show some benignity which is why he lets White Snake escape the first time when he sees that she has done a good deed. Despite that demons are beings that don't belong into this world and so he fights them with all the fanaticism that makes a good person an evil one. Jet Li doesn't need to do much for his role and he even fits into it well, however, a bit more character elaboration would have been desireable.

In the end everything revolves around Fahai learning what love means and what power it has. It can transcend borders and is able to move mountains or in this case can get whole mountains under water. Without telling too much, altough many will already be familiar with the story, this movie adaption of the material remains a romantic drama after all, too. Fahai sees the world in a more differentiated manner and this alone can give you a good feeling. Eva Huang plays White Snake convincingly and even towards the end she manages that the thin line to a TV-drama isn't crossed, only the use of a ballad makes the mood shift into that direction dangerously close. Charlene Choi ("The Twins Effect") along with Wen Zhang brings a bit more humor into the film, but most of the time the movie stays true to its dramatic action-romance style. The story is told rather unsophisticated, yet has enough content to it to present a few twists every now and then.

"The Sorcerer and the White Snake" tries to be an epic fantasy flick and director Ching Siu-Tung, who back in the day made a name for himself with "A Chinese Ghost Story", manages to deliver that. Nowadays not by putting actors into rubber suits but by using CGI-effects. But that is also where the movie's biggest downside is to be found. If you can't get along with the fact that the effects, apart from light and other magic effects, look a bit cheap - a comparison to video game cutscenes isn't right because nowadays latter look even better than this! - you won't have much fun with this movie. Jet Li is fighting in front of a green screen most of the time and the showdown is presented with so much over the top action that it will be some kind of overkill for many viewers. A fitting and pompous soundtrack by Mark Lui underlines the oftentimes epic scale of the movie. Some of the action scenes will make the fantasy fan's heart jump for joy, others were simply nice on paper but nothing more. Eventually, it is a matter of taste whether you can warm to this maybe a bit too shallow fairy tale with a tad too much corniness. The main message of the movie is universal, though, and is retold in a fresh fantasy wrapping. Therefore, this makes at least for satisfying popcorn entertainment.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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