Director: Ching siu – tong
Cast: Jet Li (as Fa Hai), Eva Huang (as White Snake), Charlene Tsoi (as Green Snake) and Raymond Lam (as Xu Xian)
Spoiler Warning: Yes
The very story incurs me to make a comparison with Green Snake, directed by Tsui Hark starring Joey Wong as White Snake and Cheung man – yuk (or Maggie Cheung as she is now better known) as Green Snake.
Both basing their movies on the classical Legend of the White Snake, Ching tries to visualise all the supernatural powers, tsunamis, fights of the Fa Hai with the giants monsters and snakes with the CG technology but end ups with crude visual effects that almost wreck the movie altogether. The half – human half – snake looks of Eva Huang and Charlene Tsoi are horrible sights to human eyes.
During the time of making his movie (in the 80s), there wasn’t so much CG technology available and so Tsui Hark relies on light, colours and illusions to beautifully show the mystical atmosphere throughout the whole movie. While Ching hopelessly uses the computer technology to present realistic scenes, Tsui unscrupulously perpetuates mysteries in a myth.
Ching made attempts to integrate some western elements in this Chinese myth. Turtles, rabbits, giant bat are all examples. The fight between Fa Hai and the giant bat monster in the volcanic mountain reminds me of the one between Gandalf and Balrog in the The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings (but again, the CG effect seriously hampers the quality). It seems quite refreshing at certain times, especially the scene where Xu Xian goes to see ‘relatives’ (the badly disguised rabbit, turtle, and reptile) of White for marriage. But at other times, the overall effect is weird and even quite anti – climatic, like when the rats easily break the spells of the monks by biting them.
Instead of putting something else into a melange, the Indian ball dance in the opening scene already shows how Tsui Hark merge exotic elements with the seductiveness of snake. Rain with lightning, the strange metallic Indian music coupled with the laughters of men and women arouses Green from the deep lake to crawl onto the roof to have a look inside. Eager to participate, she transformes into human form, half naked, and danced with the other Indian dancers (This scene is still available in YouTube, here). This is one of many other scenes to show how seductive the snakes are (especially Maggie Cheung at her prime time) but also the decadences of the people at the time.
Time and space only permit me to compare the visual arts. Let me deal with the character and plot in the next entry.