THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE"
Every so often, a genre movie comes along that you really should see, even if you aren't inherently interested in that genre. The Sorcerer and the White Snake is one of them. This Chinese martial arts picture is a masterpiece of imagination, providing the viewer with a barrage of fantastical and bizarre images, all employed in the service of a plot with intentionally heightened emotions. It's a completely insane movie, and I mean that as a complement.
Raymond Lam plays Xu Xian, a young physician seeking to develop a treatment for the illness that is sweeping his village. While searching for natural ingredients on the side of a mountain, he falls into the sea, where White Snake (Eva Huang) rescues him with the breath of life. As her name implies, White Snake is half-woman, half-snake. After their meeting, she is so enamored of Xu Xian that she assumes human form to go find him. He remembers her too, and before long, they are married. However, there is a local sorcerer, Fahai (Jet Li), who has vowed to protect the village and its residents from demons of all types. When he discovers that White Snake has left her own region – where she resides with her sister Green Snake – he vows to defeat her, even though she poses no real threat to anyone. After he banishes her, White Snake decides to fight back in order to be with her true love.
The Sorcerer and the White Snake utilizes very heavily stylized CGI to create its fantasy world. (Check out the trailer posted below to see what I'm talking about.) Making everything several steps above reality allows the story to go anywhere and do anything. Over the course of 100 minutes, you get snake-women, a talking turtle, massive floods, mice attacking monks under water, a bat creature, flying warriors, a descent into a volcano, seductive female ninjas who emerge from stalks of bamboo and turn into foxes, a cauldron full of trapped demons, and much more. The action sequences are far-out too. One finds Fahai battling a demon in the snowy mountains, dodging the massive chunks of ice she hurtles at him. Later, he does battle inside the mouth of a gigantic snake. I'm a sucker for movies like this. Every frame of The Sorcerer and the White Snake is magnificently gorgeous, and you can never anticipate what crazy thing it's going to throw at you next.
As is sometimes the case with Chinese martial arts flicks, there is a heavy undercurrent of romance underneath the action. The love between Xu Xian and White Snake is the catalyst for all the chaos that takes place. Their passion literally puts a lot of people in danger. Nonetheless, the strength of their feelings is so intense that they are willing to do whatever it takes to be together, even if it means risking their own lives. Director Tony Ching Siu-Tung gives the central romance a grand, almost operatic feel, so that we understand the sacrifices these characters are willing to make. The juxtaposition between outrageous action sequences and melodramatic love story proves enormously entertaining. This story takes place in a world where everything is outsized and epic.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Sorcerer and the White Snake. Sumptuous to look at and unabashedly emotional, it's a movie that offers wall-to-wall goofy fun for fans of martial arts flicks, fantasies, or just good old-fashioned cinematic nuttiness.
( 1/2 out of four)
The Sorcerer and the White Snake is rated PG-13 for action violence, scary images, and some sensuality. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.
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