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March 05, 2015

White Haired Witch

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The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom / Bai Fa Mo Nu Zhuan Zhi Ming Yue Tian Guo
Jacob Cheung - 2014
Well Go Entertainment Region 1 DVD

During the end credits for White Haired Witch, we hear the song "Red Face, White Hair. That song is from the earlier film version of the same story, Bride with White Hair, performed by that film's star, Leslie Cheung. It's a nice tribute to the late, and still beloved, star.

Fan Bingbing and Huang Xiaoming don't have the kind of sparks that fly as when Leslie Cheung shared the screen with Brigitte Lin in Ronny Yu's film from 1993. Still, for me, the high point was a first meeting of Fan and Huang, a martial arts ballet choreographed by Stephen Tung, inspired by Peking Opera. That scene might not be the wuxia equivalent to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but it comes pretty close. Fan might be saying no to Huang, but you know she will eventually succumb to his persistence. Sure, Leslie Cheung has the charm, and Brigitte Lin is one of the most intimidating women in film, but Fan and Huang have an effective scene here.

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If only the film had more of Fan Bingbing. She plays the leader of a rebel community in 17th Century China that lives in a remote mountain village. Huang is a government official who gets framed for murdering the emperor. Fan gets framed for killing Huang's grandfather. Various government officials are plotting against each other, and the more attention is devoted to Huang's pursuit of justice. Fan's hair turns white when she thinks she's been jilted by Huang, but until the final scene, when she magically gains the strength to literally bust out of prison, there is little to suggest the she is a witch.

Tsui Hark is credited as the "Artistic Consultant". I'm not sure what that meant in terms of this film, as Jacob Cheung is hardly a novice filmmaker. Maybe Tsui's involvement was related to making a 3D film, which has become his format of choice based on his most recent work. In any event, one gets the suggestion of how Cheung made use of 3D, especially in the early scenes which emphasize distances, either in open fields where battles take place, or the size of the emperor's palace. There is also a lot of wire work with Fan, Huang and assorted others flying around.

From the "Making of" supplement, there is footage of Huang Xiaoming in an accident while performing a stunt. While Huang did come back to complete the film, there are hints that he was still hurting during the shoot. Cheung and company did a masterful job of working around Huang's physical limitations as well. Photos of Huang's scars and x-rays are more shocking than anything seen in Cheung's film.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 5, 2015 07:07 AM