The Emperor and the White Snake (2011)
★★ / ★★★★
While out picking herbs in the mountains, Xu Xian (Raymond Lam) falls from a cliff and into a lake when Green Snake (Charlene Choi), a demon that is more playful than mean-spirited, tried to scare him. Her sister, White Snake (Shengyi Huang), dives in to save Xu Xian and kisses him, unaware that she has casted a love spell.
When Xu Xian wakes up, all he is able to think about is the mysterious woman who came for his rescue. Meanwhile, two monks, Abott Fahai (Jet Li) and Neng Ren (Zhang Wen), are on the hunt for demons, either to kill or capture them so these creatures can repent in the temple for centuries.
Directed by Siu-Tung Ching, “Bai she churn shuo” is a bizarre mixture of fable and action because it is rooted upon a love story involving a forbidden love affair between a human and a thousand-year-old snake demon. Although there is a clash between tender moments and kinetic action, the former is amusing cornball while the latter is second-rate (but nonetheless appealing) special and visual effects extravaganza.
The way Xu Xian and White Snake, named Susu in human form, meet only happens in the movies. Susu is so smitten over her man that she does everything so that he (literally) falls over and ends up in her arms. Never mind that we are given no good reason why she has fallen in love with him other than the fact that she wishes to know how it feels like to love and be loved. It is like an adolescent pop song in pop-up form. I found it amusing and charming (and brainless and cheesy) in small dosages.
It is plagued with one-dimensional characters, from Xu Xian who is ceaselessly noble in his actions to Neng Ren who acts more like a clown than a monk on a mission. As a result, when the story reaches some of its dramatic arcs, the way the characters react to them are far from believable since emotions are forced to run from one extreme to the next. In order for a dramatic occurrence to feel real, even if it is constructed within the confines of fantasy, a reliable gradient is a requisite as to not come off silly.
I enjoyed that it is not afraid to go over-the-top with its visuals. During battle scenes, for example, stone structures are destroyed and the pieces are used as jagged weapons. Just when I thought I had seen it all, it turns tranquil lakes into violent whirlpools of doom, sound waves are utilized to incapacitate bat she-demons, and others best remain unmentioned as to prevent ruining the element of surprise. All of these are fun, but what I found most absurd are the talking turtle, rabbit, and rat—just in case it isn’t obvious that the entire thing is not to be taken too seriously.
“The Sorcerer and the White Snake” benefits from taking a whole enchilada of risks. I would rather watch a movie that looks ridiculous with elements that do not completely work (but some do) instead of boring usual tripe that showcases neither creativity with regards to what is up on the screen nor imagination on paper. It is a lot of things, good and bad, but it is also a good time because it has a sense of humor about itself.