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Action director Ching Siu-Tung helms this fantasy film based on an old Chinese legend about an herbalist who falls in love with a thousand-year-old White Snake disguised as a woman. Jet Li stars as a sorcerer who discovers her true identity and battles to save the man's soul. Written by
In an interview with the entire cast of the movie, Jet Li mentioned that he got tricked into accepting the role. The producer supposedly convinced him that he didn't have to fight a lot, but it turned out to be the opposite. See more »
Can meet with you, I don't what good luck had struck me. Just because of your single kiss I believe that the wheels of fate had turned. Just because of that moment, the moment was filled with sweet and happiness. From now on, every minute and every moment, I will protect you always and let you happy for life.
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Richly entertaining brew of fantasy, romance and CGI reminiscent of the best supernatural action extravanganzas of the '80s and '90s
We're pretty sure many of you will agree that seeing Jet Li's name on the poster of this action fantasy epic is enough to convince you to catch this movie- after all, besides Donnie Yen, we can't think of a bigger martial arts actor in Asia today. What's more, ever since announcing that 'Fearless' would be his last 'wushu' movie back in 2006, Jet Li hasn't been as prolific as before- his previous leading role was in the tearjerker 'Ocean Heaven'- so this latest represents a return of sorts to the kind of movie that we love to see him in.
The tale here is a familiar Chinese fable about the forbidden romance between a simple kind-hearted man and a snake demon who takes the form of a beautiful woman (previous screen incarnations include the Shaw Bros' 'Madam White Snake' and Tsui Hark's 'Green Snake'). And like action maestro and sometimes-director Tony Ching Siu-Tong's directorial debut 'A Chinese Ghost Story', it is set amidst a fantasy world where both humans and demons roam, with the latter taking on human form to deceive the former.
An action-packed opening sequence where Jet Li's sorcerer-monk Fahai- together with his protégé Neng Ren (Wen Zhang)- defeats the dangerously alluring Ice Witch (Vivian Hsu) establishes the malevolent nature of the demons, as well as Fahai's mission to vanquish those who threaten the lives of humans. It also serves as fair warning that this latest adaptation of the 'White Snake' legend is not simply an '80s-throwback (a la Wilson Yip's remake of 'A Chinese Ghost Story' earlier this year), but rather a 21st- century treatment using the latest advances in CGI to create some lavish backdrops for the multiple elaborate action sequences.
And warning indeed it is, for you'd best be advised to temper your expectations about the visual effects on display. Yes, while the booming China film industry can now easily rival its Hollywood counterpart on scale and spectacle, it still has a long way to go when it comes to CG imagery- and the amateurish special effects within the very first sequence will tell you as much. Thankfully, it gets better- and we mean much better- as the movie progresses, even managing to impress by the time it reaches the climactic showdown between Fahai and the White Snake.
Still, the strength in Tony Ching's film lies not in its showcase of modern-day CG techniques, but rather in its old-fashioned love story between 'White Snake' Bai Suzhen (Eva Huang) and young herbalist Xu Xian (Raymond Lam). This is the equivalent of 'Romeo and Juliet' for the Chinese audience, and Tony knows how to push the right buttons to engender a sweet affecting romance between the two leads. Much of the credit also goes to William Chang's vivid costume design and Zhai Tao's rich production design, which successfully create a fantastically beautiful landscape to evoke the passion behind the human-snake coupling.
There is also a surprisingly potent dose of humour in the screenplay by Zhang Tan, Tsan Kan-cheong and Szeto Cheuk-hon. Rather than let the film drown in its own seriousness, the trio inject some playfulness into their treatment of the fantasy. Neng Ren's transformation into a bat demon after being poisoned by one brings much levity to the proceedings, and Xu Xian's encounter with Suzhen's animal-turned-human 'parents' (Chapman To, Miriam Yeung and Lam Suet gleefully hamming it for broad laughs) is particularly campy but hilarious. Despite the slapstick, Tony maintains a firm grasp of the film's tone, and alternates between comedy, romance and drama with ease and confidence.
The same dexterity can also be said of his work as action director on the film, especially in his ability at integrating rather seamlessly the movements of his cast and the special effects added post-production. A battle between Fahai and Neng Ren against the bat-demon on Mid-Autumn night is an excellent case-in-point- ditto for the extended climax between Fahai and the White Snake set in the middle of the ocean. Admittedly however, none of the action sequences are particularly memorable- mostly because Jet Li only gets to spar against either a green screen or against 'green' martial arts actors like Eva Huang and Charlene Choi.
Still, Jet Li's stately presence shines through despite the CG distractions, and his undimmed screen charisma overcomes the shortcomings of the slightly underwritten role. The surprise here is however Eva's spirited (pardon the pun) performance, lively, vivacious and genuinely affecting in her demonstration of the White Snake's deep love for Xu Xian. Her Hong Kong counterparts Charlene and Raymond however pale far in comparison- their ho-hum performances of their essentially one-note characters easily forgettable.
But in spite of these shortcomings, this remains a richly entertaining brew of fantasy, romance and CGI- the supernatural world is vividly realised, the romance is surprisingly affecting and the CGI is also commendable by the standards of Chinese cinema. Much better than this year's 'Chinese Ghost Story' attempt at resurrecting the once- flourishing supernatural action genre, Tony Ching's latest is a sumptuous treat for the imagination. And of course, given the rarity of watching Jet Li in action on the big screen these days, 'The Sorcerer and the White Snake' deserves to be seen by his fans- even if it may not be his best work.
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