Wow. If you are at all interested in mythologically based fantasy, with plenty of magic, demons, comedy, romance, kung fu and senses-shattering special effects of the highest magnitude, you quite simply gotta see this movie. It is cute and beautiful and full of grand spectacles. Just jaw-dropping.
It may be the last big movie starring Jet Li in top form, and what a finish!! This is one of the best movies of his career. He plays Abbot Fahai, a sorcerer monk, demon hunter and exorcist, and, of course, a martial arts master.
A lowly herbalist, Xu Xian, catches the eye of a snake demon who can change shape. Her name is Susu; the titular White Snake – she falls in love with him, and starts living with him as a human being. However, human/demon liaisons can only go wrong, and by giving Xu Xian a part of her vital energy, Susu is making things difficult for the sorcerer monks who are safe-guarding the human world from demonic influence. Abbot Fahai and his fellow monks – esp. his apprentice Neng Ren – are very busy warding off evil demons, vampire bats and that sort of creature, and the time comes when the abbot discovers Susu, fights her, and gives her a warning: she must leave Xu Xian immediately. He could have captured her, but he realizes that she is not evil. Susu, of course, refuses to leave Xu Xian, and her passions overbrim to the point where she and her snake demon sister (Charlene Choi in by far her best role yet) unleash a deluge of a flood upon the entire valley. Now, are even the abbot and his monks powerful enough to deal with this disaster? In the midst of everything, Neng Ren is bitten by a vampire bat and starts changing into one.
The Sorcerer and the White Snake is the best Asian fantasy movie in recent memory. It has an enormous amount of CGI, but it looks marvelous! The story is written with the knowledge that absolutely anything can be done with CGI, and the movie completely lives up to this confidence. Just as very good special effects are required to make a superhero movie look convincingly like the comic books it is based on, a certain level of quality effects are also necessary to do justice to a mythological tale of demons and sorcery, and now we’re at the level where this can be done in a satisfying way. You have to love advanced computer technology! After this movie I am significantly raising my expectations of what Asian movies are going to be capable of from now on.
The movie has so much to look at. The two female snake demons are pretty and playful in their natural, paradisic surroundings, and the Burning Lantern festival makes a pleasing spectacle out of the local town and the gently swaying boats on the river running through it. The beauty is punctuated by magnificent fight scenes and a generous helping of effective comedy, and the general narrative is told in a very straight-forward manner (unlike in some other Asian movies I might mention). There is scene upon scene that amazes and shocks you; you never stop smiling and being awed throughout the movie. The ending is bittersweet at first, but you soon realize that by the rules of the world it takes place in, it had to be that way.
Count on it: this glorious cinematic feast will find a good home in my Blu-ray collection ASAP! And apparently it is already out on Blu-ray, though the UK release seems to be titled “Emperor & The White Snake” (which makes no sense as there is no emperor in this movie).
P.S. Since this movie only has a current IMDb rating of 5.7 (based on 2,000 votes), there must be many who do not share my taste and judgment. I can only say that that’s their loss. And I strongly believe the IMDb rating will climb as more people see this movie. I certainly cannot wait to see it again.
Director: Siu-Tung Ching
Cast: Jet Li, Eva Huang, Zhang Wen, Charlene Choi, Raymond Lam and others.
Runtime: 100 min.
Country: China / Hong Kong