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April 09, 2013

The Sorcerer and the White Snake

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Bai she chuan shuo
Tony Ching - 2011
Magnolia Home Entertainment Region 1 DVD

One of my favorite Buddhist parables about the Dragon King's daughter. In its essence, the lesson is that anyone can be a Buddha, that it's not confined to human males. Even non-human females could be enlightened in their present form. As there are many forms of Buddhist practice, this isn't the Buddhism of Jet Li and his disciples in The Sorcerer and the White Snake. Had it been otherwise, we might have seen, if not happy ending, at least a happier ending to this classic story.

Tony Ching's film is the newest version of "The Legend of the White Snake". The only previous film version I am familiar with is Tsui Hark's Green Snake, with the always charming Maggie Cheung in the title role. This new version takes advantage of CGI special effects, and for those who were able to see the film theatrically, 3D. Tony Ching has been down this road of impossible, supernatural love, before, with what is still his best work, A Chinese Ghost Story, with Leslie Cheung and Joey Wong, from 1987, produced by Tsui. It was Joey Wong who played White Snake in Tsui Hark's film, perhaps not coincidentally.

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The snake sisters here are Eva Huang as White Snake and Charlene Choi as Green Snake. Huang isn't as well known stateside, but is a major name as an actress and singer, as well as being part of the production company for this film. The bulk of the film concentrates on the love story between White Snake and the young herbalist, Xu Xian, played by Raymond Lam. White Snake takes on human form, falling in love with Xian. Because she is actually a demon, the relationship between the two is forbidden. Huang and Lam are also the vocalists on the film's theme song played during the closing credits.

Even though Jet Li gets top billing, his is more of a supporting role as the Buddhist monk Fahai. In the early scenes, Li is seen with Wen Zhang as Neng Ren, a well-meaning, but bumbling disciple, as well as the film's comic foil. While we see Li doing some sword fighting and flying around with duels with the Ice Harpy, as well as the snake sisters, his best and funniest scene is maintaining total poise while surrounded by the gorgeous Fox Demons. Foxy ladies, indeed. There are also the Bat Demons who take on Neng Ren, who is able to destroy most of them with a pair of cymbals, until he is bitten himself. If that's not enough, there are also some talking animals, also friendly demons, including a tortoise and one very chubby mouse.

For all of the special effects and wire work, it is Charlene Choi playing against Wen Zhang that is the best part of this film. One of the funnier scenes is of Green Snake trying to teach the transitioning Neng Ren on how to be a demon, including hanging him upside down like a bat. It's scenes such as this that are a reminder that the best parts of many movies involve good dialogue and a sense of humor.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 9, 2013 08:00 AM