The Sorcerer and the White Snake (Review)

The Sorcerer and the White Snake

aka 白蛇傳說 aka It’s Love aka Bai she chuan shuo aka Madame White Snake

2011
Written by Charcoal Tan, Tsang Kan-Cheung, and Sze-To Cheuk-Hon
Directed by Tony Ching Siu-Tung
Action Directors – Tony Ching Siu-Tung and Wong Ming-Kin

Ice Age 5: Journey to Mt. Doom!

The Sorcerer and the White Snake is a big budget effects bonanza that also doubles as a sleeping aide. Thanks to China attempting to become a major player in the movie department, they’ve begun adopting the worst aspect of Hollywood blockbusters. Giant empty special effects, bland characters, story arcs that go nowhere, and a film made as generic and non-offensive as possible to ensure the widest possible audience. Sadly, that also makes The Sorcerer and the White Snake just like so many of those big budget films in that it is not very good. Now, I can’t fault them entirely for being inspired by generic Hollywood junk, that’s most likely the films that are imported over to China that clean up in the box office. But in the race to show how China can do it too, they failed to realize what China is doing is failing just as bad.

We’ve come to avenge Ting Ting from Thunder of Gigantic Serpent!

When making The Sorcerer and the White Snake, the producers decided the most interesting part about this classic love story was a supporting character who fought spirits. My thinking is they wanted to do a familiar story but also wanted to do a film with huge action sequences. The only feasible way was to graft it onto the classic White Snake story. But it just doesn’t work. The original tale is diluted and weakened, while the Monk’s expanded story receives little payoff. This decision even further boggles the mind because they kept the title It’s Love, which hints that the film should be focused on the couple and not the monk. The biggest sin of all is the action sequences ring hollow and bland. Large portions of what should have made the film great were sacrificed for spectacles that focues on looking good over actual impact. Thousands of people at thousands of computers worked for thousands of hours to make me bored. Many of the huge battles fail to even convey a sense of danger for the combatants, even when the entire ocean is turning into giant tidal waves with giant snakes swimming around, no one seems to be in real danger.

Someone wasn’t paying attention when they read the Book of Genesis!

But are there bright spots? Well, the film certainly looks very nice. Good cinematography. Moments of the action sequences are good, but not enough. This paragraph should be longer, but I really can’t think of anything.

By that time, my mouse lungs were aching for air.

It is legally impossible to talk about The Sorcerer and the White Snake without bringing up the last well known theatrical version of this story, Green Snake. I’m serious. Lawyers will call you and yell. While Tsui Hark’s film is a masterpiece, it is a completely different story (based, in fact, on a separate work, the book Green Snake by Lilian Lee!) Comparing Green Snake to The Sorcerer and the White Snake is like complaining because The Muppets Wizard of Oz isn’t enough like Wicked. They are two different stories with two different tales, with the same narrative starting point. And this post isn’t about Green Snake, it’s about The Sorcerer and the White Snake.

I hate it when I’m in the bamboo forest and a rap video breaks out…

Let’s meet the cast, then I’ll point out some places where the film did okay and where I got annoyed.

Master Fahai (Jet Li Lian-Jie) – The abbot of Jin Shan Temple and famed demon hunter. Very arrogant and strict, though he does try to capture most of the spirits in case they want to meditate for rehabiliation. See more Jet Li in The Forbidden Kingdom.
Susu aka White Snake (Eva Huang Sheng-Yi) – White Snake spirit that is thousands of years old and has the fortune/misfortune to fall in love with a human being. Eva Huang is best known for appearing voicelessly in Kung Fu Hustle, then getting fired from Stephen Chow’s production company, and drama ensuing, then still making it in the cutthroat world of acting/producing.
Qingqing aka Green Snake (Charlene Choi Cheuk-Yin) – The rowdy Green Snake, who is more emotional and joking than her friend White Snake. But she is loyal and will defend her friend to the end. Charlene Choi is also on TarsTarkas.NET in Treasure Inn, Hidden Heroes, Beauty on Duty, and Protege De La Rose Noire.
Monk Nengren (Wen Zhang) – Assistant monk to Master Fahai and he accompanies him on all his adventures. Until he’s bitten by a bat demon and begins turning into a spirit himself. It also looks like the monks don’t have much of a health care plan…
Xu Xian (Raymond Lam Fung) – A young herbalist with big dreams and posessing enough of a cool factor to catch the eye of Susu for some cross-species romance. Turns out he isn’t that upset that his wife is a snake.
So much CGI, the excitemenZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzz…..

Close the door! Do you think I’m heating the whole neighborhood?

Master Fahai and his assistant Monk Nengren are introduced hunting down a Snow Goblin (called an Ice Harpy in the version of subtitles I have) who has holed up in an old temple, converting the inside to a vast ice wilderness where the red clad Snow Goblin (played by Vivian Hsu Jo-Hsuan) floats down and attacks, her fluttering bright red dress making her pop out in the bleak whiteness of the snow and ice. This scene introduces Fahai and shows that he hunts down spirits, but that he also catches them in a Ghostbusters-like trap to be stored in the Lei Feng Pagoda at Jin Shan Temple (like the Ghostbusters containment system!) We also easily see that Nengren is a comic relief character, who is easily frozen by the Snow Goblin and has other hard luck things happen to him. The final piece of setup is the large CGI ice battles between the Snow Goblin and Fahai, foreshadowing a reliance of major effects to keep interest over the story.

Green Snake Qingqing and White Snake Susu are hanging out in the mountains and are best buds. Their snake spirit forms feature human tops and everything below the armpits being gigantic snake parts. They float through the air and act like goofy sprites. Being best buds, they hang very close and snuggle up in a totally heterosexual way. Don’t be getting any ideas, this is a Mainland production! Everything is all cool as they spy on the latest group of humans wandering by, which include local herbalist Xu Xian, who’s busy picking rare plants. Green Snake Qingqing spooks him as a joke, but he falls into the water and doesn’t surface. White Snake Susu saves him under the water, giving him a life energy kiss. As the spirits get their vital life energy from meditation, it cost her a few years to save his life. At this point Susu begins to get obsessed with Xu Xian, while Xu Xian has fallen for the mystery underwater woman that no one believes exists. Thus Susu starts to follow him to town, where there is a lantern festival happening because it makes the nighttime town visuals look cooler.

They ruined the ending to Sixth Sense, so they needed to die!
The ghost traps in this film are geodes?
3D tv will never catch on…

Fahai and Nengren are also in town, tracking down a bat-demon that is causing plagues by biting the necks of victims. Dracula, you jerk! As they are in town, this gives Green Snake Qingqing time to run into Nengren and aggressively flirt, his innocence and sense of duty piquing her interest. The Bat Demon then causes problems, looking like an episode of True Blood broke out in the middle of this idyllic Chinese village. Nengren stops the Bat Demon’s vampire girl goons, but isn’t powerful enough to take on the big boy, who chomps him on the neck. Monk Fahai flies in and fights the Bat Demon, the battle leaving the village and ending at the bottom of a volcano, the world minus one Bat Demon.

This action contrasts to how Susu reintroduces herself to Xu Xian, leaning alone on a pier and trapping him with her, him continually saying he’s not interested because he’s in love with another – the girl in the water – who she proves her identity by tossing him in the drink again.

Snake girls gone wild!
Just a normal day in the forest…
Despite standing still, Tortoise still won a race with that hare!

Misfortune upon Nengren, who ends up beginning to transform into a demon thanks to his bite. He runs away from the monks and ends up as Qingqing’s new favorite torture subject as she teaches him demon respect.

There’s then an embarrassing scene where Susu introduces Xu Xian to her “parents” so he can ask her to marry him. It’s embarrassing because the “family” is her fellow animal spirits rendering human form and thus allowing many Hong Kong celebrity cameos. Except they can’t do the forms fully so everyone is acting like frogs, roosters, cats, bunnies, and turtles. Thus the cameos all act goofy, in performances that will never make it to their resumes.

This all goes fine and well and the audience covers more of their face in embarrassment until Jet Li attacks with a pack of monks! Finally, Monk Fahai is doing something good. Qingqing tries to distract him so the rest can escape, but she’s about to be captured until Nengren saves her.

Not only does she love humans, but she loves overly dramatic entrances!
You were my brother, Anakin. I loved you!
Next week, on True Blood!

Life married to Xu Xian goes well for Susu, though she is using her vital essence to help her husband’s herbal remedies save citizens of a town affected by a plague. The plague brought on by fox spirits, allowing another action sequence as Fahai captures them. He also gives Susu a warning to leave the humans world.

She doesn’t and Fahai attacks the house, forcing her to revert back to her white snake form. This freaks out Xu Xian, who stabs her with a magical knife Fahai gave him earlier. Susu is injured and flees, while her husband is told that the giant snake was his wife. Instead of being grateful that he was saved from a snake wife like Fahai thinks, Xu Xian instead becomes obsessed with trying to save his snake wife. The only thing that can save her and restore her vital energy is the Spirit Herb in the Lei Feng Pagoda.

Raphael! How could you??
Another long boring CGI battle scene is starting! Get outta here!
I’m ready for my Justice League movie!

Xu Xian gets help from the Mouse Spirit character who pops up occasionally to make smart remarks. After braving some Harry Potter-level simple traps, he gets the herb, but the Spirit Herb is also the thing keeping all the evil spirits in the Monks’ trap, they are released. Yes, it’s another plot point ganked from Ghostbusters! Many of the spirits decide to possess Xu Xian. Mouse Spirit flees with the Spirit Herb while the monks prepare the Luohan spell to try to unpossess Xu Xian.

White Snake and Green Snake then rush back to demand the return of Xu Xian, but Fahai refuses as they are in the middle of the Luohan spell. Thus Susu and Fahai battle by throwing giant CGI tidal waves at each other. CGI is everywhere! CGI water attacks the CGI monk compound. CGI CGI CGI CGI CGI CGI CGI CGI CGI CGI CGI CGI CGI CGI CGI CGI CGI CGI CGI CGI CGI CGI! These pixels are threatening to drown everyone! Someone’s going to get an eye poked out from all these pixels!

This is why there are laws against second-hand smoke!

The monks keep praying even though their compound is under water (and they are as well!) But they are attacked by a swarm of mouse spirits in an attempt to free Xu Xian. I can honestly say this is the best underwater monks vs mice battle I have ever seen in movie form.

The the battle has a price, Xu Xian’s memories of Susu are now gone. She blames Monk Fahai for this and the two battle even more. Can you believe all the CGI CGI CGI CGI from before was only the beginning of the CGI? Now we got thousands of biting snakes being thrown, Fahai being devoured by Green Snake and fighting her intestinal cilia (then he bursts out!), giant water wave missiles, and Fahai meditating with all the arms of Buddha appearing behind him.

You can’t fool me, I know which way is up!
Great, I only packed 134 snakebite kits!

The one bright spot is Fahai sees the bat Nengren saving some of the monks in the water and he realizes he may be being a bit of a jerk to the spirits. Thanks to the power of gods interveining, Susu ends up trapped in the monk tower for 1000 years, though she does get to see Xu Xian one last time (at which point he remembers her.) Both of those actions show Fahai that he was probably being too strict, but we can’t have authority trumped too much so this is all the lean we’ll be getting until someone creates a cool subversive version.

Until that day, we’re stuck with boring CGI fests like this. Thankfully, the Green Snake DVD should never be far from our reach. Or the lawyers will call again…

Snakes barfing up Jet Lis, it happens every day here!
DANGER! DANGER! I sense this might get disturbingly Japanese soon!

Rated 4/10 (Logo, Logo, Twilight this ain’t, it’s magic!)


Please give feedback below!

Email us and tell us how much we suck!

Mouse Guy is the most believable character in the film!
I like to stand in the produce aisle and judge people who don’t know how to pick out a good vegetable
Forget this! I’m eating hamburgers, at least they don’t talk back!
How dare you say my stiff acting brings little to the film!
This is why quick marriages seldom work.
I’m off to father Bat Boy so Weekly World News can have stories to print!

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Written by Tars Tarkas

Tars Tarkas

Runs this joint!