Saturday, September 24, 2011

New Release Review: The Sorcerer and the White Snake (Tony Ching Siu-ting, 2011)

There are two intersecting stories at the heart of the fantasy/adventure, The Sorcerer and the White Snake. The first follows a gifted young herbalist, Xu Xian (Raymond AM), who is mountaineering with companions. White Snake (Eva Huang), in the human embodiment of a beautiful woman, is smitten with Xu Xian and secretly observes him along with Green Snake (Charlene Choi). The latter decides to scare the hapless young man, causing him to fall into the lake, with White Snake (who will later adopt the name of Susu) diving in to rescue him. With Xu Xian unable to get the woman out of his mind, and fueled by her own uncontained passion, Susu ventures into the Human Realm, and with her true form unbeknownst to Xu Xian, marries him.

The second story follows a powerful sorcerer, Fa Hai (Jet Li), who wanders the Human Realm with his new apprentice (Wen Zang), battling demons that are masquerading amongst the humans, and subduing them. The paths of Fa Hai and his apprentice cross with the White and Green Snake, with the latter bonding romantically with the apprentice, while Fa Hai tries to protect Xu Xian when he suspects one of his herbal remedies has been aided by a Snake Demon. He finds himself battling Susu, who is intent on remaining in the Human Realm with Xu Xian.

The Sorcerer and the White Snake is very shiny, with some elegant and lusciously photographed set pieces in the main town. The score was also very beautiful and reminded me of the hypnotic music in the classic Final Fantasy games. But, it was way too CGI-heavy for my liking, and while the budget must have been enormous, I felt a lot of features suffered through a misplacement of funds. There is a lot squeezed into the 98 minute running time; the story progresses quickly and there is a relentless barrage of action sequences. What you immediately recognize is that to really enjoy this film you will have to suspend rational thought about the world the film is set in. Another thing to remember is that the story is based on White Snake, a Chinese fantasy and that certain elements that lack 'credibility' are acceptable. Even so, the ridiculous plot is still highly problematic.

One can argue this film falls into several genres, but above all, it is a romance. Xu Xian and Susu fall into an inter-realm love, which is prohibited and unrequited. Both display heroic righteousness in their attempts to keep that seemingly genuine love alive. Susu becomes extremely aggressive when she fears being captured, while Xu Xian is fueled by confusion and desperation. Xu Xian’s unbreakable desire for Susu is infused in him when she first kisses him, and the danger bestowed upon him (fraternizing with a powerful 1,000 year old Snake Demon) is through Susu’s selfish desires to live amongst humans. The recognized heroes and villains shift, with our associations (assuming that Fa Hai and Xu Xian will emerge as the heroes) changing several times. It is confusing. 

Ultimately, The Sorcerer and the White Snake is an uneven blend of romantic fairytale, kinetic action (in the style of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Hero, though very inferior) and infused with often-dazzling visuals plagued by overzealous CGI. What lets the film down, and significantly, is the story. While there were only a few principle characters, the film jumps between the overarching plotlines unevenly and spends way too long developing the romance, and largely ignoring Jet Li’s veteran sorcerer, who only seems to appear whenever there is a demon to be subdued. In one sequence, Fa Hai fights a bat demon by riding it Gandalf-style into an enormous pit of fire. The structure of this sequence is even similar to Peter Jackson’s one in The Two Towers, and feels like a blatant rip-off.

The action sequences, at times, resembled a series of video game levels but it’s hard to deny the impressiveness of the scope of the story. Comparing the beginning and end of the film (a spectacular flooding of a temple); it’s hard to believe they exist in the same film. Some of the visual effects are quite astounding and most effective when used during sequences of choreographed action between the characters in human form. But, the CGI snakes (which range from being abnormally large land creatures to gargantuan water monsters) and the other animals (a mouse, a rabbit and a turtle feature) are really quite bad. Set for a limited release on September 29, Tony Ching Siu-ting’s The Sorcerer and the White Snake might appeal to a young demographic, whose visuals will likely produce a sense of wonderment, but I don’t see it’s run lasting very long.

My Rating: ★★ (C-)


  1. Glossy, fast-paced action movies rarely appeal to me, but it sounds like something my husband and son might like. :)

  2. This isn't my sort of film either and while it had some awe-inducing fight sequences, my interest in the story was almost non-existent, and I feel only those having grown up with childhood fantasies like this, or serious f/x gurus, will really enjoy it.