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The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Baifa Monu Zhuan Zhi Mingyue Tianguo

China 2014

Wuxia, Romance, Drama

Jacob Cheung

Huang Xiaoming
Fan Bingbing
Vincent Zhao
Wang Xuebing
Ni Dahong
Tong Yao
Cecilia Yip
Li Xinru
Yan Yikuan
Lai Xiaosheng
John Do

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The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom

Story: Zhuo Yihang (Huang Xiaoming) is a member of the Wudang Clan and is entrusted with the task of bringing a couple of extraordinary pills to the emperor. But the emperor dies and the blame is put on Yihang. Actually, the eunuch Wei Zhongtian (Ni Dahong) is behind the death of the ruler, though, and without anyone noticing he seizes power. Yihang flees and runs into Lian Nishang (Fan Bingbing) as she is dealing with general Jin Duyi (Vincent Zhao) who mulcts some poor peasants of their rice. Yihang fights at her side and at Fort Luna, the hideout of Lian and a few righteous warriors, he also helps battle the plague. That's when Yihang and Lian fall in love with each other, although Lian at first didn't want to start a relationship, because her master once warned her that love is like poison. Yihang is still wanted and because he doesn't want the Wudang Clan to be blamed for the emperor's death he has to leave the fort and find the real culprit. At the same time the Jin army is about to invade the country. Jin Duyi wants to gain control over Fort Luna because it promises to give an important strategic advantage against the soon invading army.

Review: "The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom" is a typical victim of an overly critical audience. This is without a doubt because the film is a remake of the Ronny Yu flick "The Bride with White Hair" from 1993. Wait, that's actually not true! The film is rather based on the same novel by Liang Yusheng. However, the remake shifts the focus from the romantic relationship to the political intrigues and games of betrayal. Accordingly, the movie sticks closer to the original than Yu's work. Also, this wuxia picture actually doesn't make that much wrong! Instead of getting a 3D flick overloaden with CGI, as it is sadly very popular in China these days in order to target the wide "Transformers" audience, the film actually features some of the magic that makes a good wuxia flick. So why all the criticism?

The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom - Film Screenshot 11

Surely it's hard to defend the movie when it comes to its narrative. A very complex story with lots of protagonists, double-crossing, betrayal and political power struggles is compressed to something that leaves no space for the individual parts to unfold, making the events oftentimes very confusing. This becomes especially apparent in some of the supporting characters who even get their own little subplots. Yet, they are often implemented so heavy-handedly that they interfere with the flow of the main story. Moreover, they sometimes even feel like foreign bodies, as the introduction of the characters involved simply was too long ago for us to connect the parts. A similar problem occurs all throughout the wuxia flick. The story is like a see-saw. At some point the political events stand in the foreground, at others it is the love story or Yihang's secret plot.

The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom - Film Screenshot 12

Thus, the question arises why "The White Haired Witch" of all movies has to get by with a comparatively meager running time of 104 minutes. Every CGI-flick with just one tenth of the story told here clocks in at no less than two hours! The short running time may be the reason why the pacing never really drops, but because of it it's also extremely difficult to follow what's happening storywise. Furthermore, there are constant hints at complex relationships between the characters, that are never shed light on, though. But our interest in the characters is actually awakened! Director Jacob Cheung ("Battle of Wits") simply has overloaded his adaption of the novel and should have set a clear focus. Since this focus is missing the movie also doesn't feel like a whole, but more like several episides of a tv series. Then again, a tv series would have had the luxury of illuminating the characters more.

There was also a lot of criticism because the two protagonists are said to be lacking chemistry. I can't really agree with that. Fan Bingbing ("Shaolin", "Sacrifice") seems to be born for this role, but it's true that her character lacks the depth to adequately reflect the bitterness resulting from her experience with love and justify her transformation already suggested by the movie's title. Even though I won't make any other comparisons with Ronny Yu's work (because his movie simply has a completely different focus) it's true that the remake is clearly inferior to Yu's version in this respect. The movie just lacks the main element, the heart of the story. After all "The White Haired Witch" is too much of an intrigue-filled politics skirmish for the picture's title to be justified. Still, Huang Xiaoming ("The Return of the Condor Heroes", "The Sniper") embodies the charismatic wuxia hero pretty convincingly.

The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom - Film Screenshot 13

Unfortunately, the two individuals can't bestow real depth on their relationship, but it still doesn't lack chemistry completely, although some of the dialogues turn out to be too corny. The sets don't just consist of obvious green screens as is often criticized, some sets even ooze out the kind of magic that should distinguish a real wuxia movie. Which shouldn't come as a surprise since Tsui Hark helped out as an artistic consultant. Thankfully, the cgi effects are kept within a limit and so there is no cheap fireworks or unnecessary epic battles. The wuxia fights feature a lot of wire fu and thus would have benefited from more substance, yet they fit into the story. Peter Kam ("Isabella") contributes a remarkably well achieved soundtrack that isn't intrusive, though. It's just a shame that the ending feels haphazard and corny (including a song by Leslie Cheung, which serves as a bridge to the 90s flick after all). Ultimately, this is a wuxia flick that is far better than most critics will give it credit for, if it weren't for an overloaden and confusing story and its lack of focus.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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