The classic Chinese novel Baifa Monü Zhuan may not be familiar to Western audiences, but its author Li Yusheng was considered one of the best known wuxia authors in the 20th Century. Now, Hong Kong director Jacob Cheng, who previously worked on cult classic Mr. Vampire, is following in the footsteps of Ronny Yu and David Wu and adapting Yusheng’s novel for the silver screen.
The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom focuses on the doomed relationship between Zhuo Yihang (Huang Xiaoming) and Lian ‘Jade Raksha’ Nishang (Fan Bingbing), who plays the eponymous witch. Set during the Ming dynasty, there is a growing threat of civil war with the Jin army and the Emperor’s forces preparing to do battle. Yihang and Nishang meet and quickly fall in love but as the threat of war draws nearer, the couple’s personal missions force them apart, causing Lian to undergo a startling transformation.
Cheng indulges in the story’s sentimentality by piling on the melodramatic and schmalz in this classic story, which comes across as a misfired attempt to feature more humanity into the plot and its characters.
The film essentially depends on how the relationship between Yihang and Nishang is portrayed, but unfortunately, there is not enough conviction and chemistry between Huang and Fan to truly engage the viewer. As a result, the majority of the plot, such as the political corruption and the social effects of war and famine don’t invoke any emotion.
However, White Haired Witch is visually stunning. The fight scenes show grace and well-visualised choreography and the production design and costumes nicely reflect the style of the era. It is a pity that these aspects cannot save the film from being an overcomplicated vision of what is a relatively simple story.
With its CGI fight scenes and a female protagonist who can handle a sword may attract audiences to The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom, but its overindulgent love story and lacklustre narrative may say otherwise.
Director: Zhang Zhiliang
Writer: Yusheng Liang
Stars: Bingbing Fan, Xiaoming Huang, Wenzhuo Zhao
Runtime: 104 min