The Bride with White Hair 2
aka 白髮魔女2 aka Bai fa mo nu zhuan II
Written by Raymond To Kwok-Wai, David Wu Dai-Wai, and Ronny Yu Yan-Tai
Directed by David Wu Dai-Wai
When last we left our star-crossed lovers, everyone except them was totally dead! Also Lien Ni Chang hated Cho Yi Hang, her hair having turned white upon his betrayal of her trust, and she went on a total killing spree ending. With The Bride with White Hair Part 2, it’s now ten years later, and Lien Ni Chang has turned the killing spree into an art form. She has been hunting down and killing all members of the Eight United Clans, her vengeance focused on anything that reminds her of her scorned lover. Ni Chang has set up a fortress filled with female warriors, and they often dish out punishment on men, an extension of her hatred.
While Part 1 focused on Cho Yi Hang as the main character, Part 2 features Lien Ni Chang as the member of the couple who gets the major role, though as an antagonist. The focus of the story is on a different pair of lovers, offering a parallel to the love story from the prior film. There is a greater amount of side characters with stories, which hints as the clan and political intrigue from the wuxia serials the tale originates from.
The prior film featured a love that ended in accidental betrayal, here the ending has a reconsiliatory tone, but there is a price to be paid for the actions done. The two films are united by the lovers and completes the story, ending in the somber but touching way tragic romance tales often do.
The Bride with White Hair Part 2 is noticeably less cinematic than it’s predecessor. While Part 1 would have huge energetic scenes with lots of characters and action happening (be it an insane cult orgy or a choreographed battle), Part 2 is smaller scale, with a limited amount of scenes involving a large number of choreographed elements. This adds touches of a more personal tone which reflects on the love stories, but it also reveals the smaller budget and smaller skill set of the director. Instead of Ronny Yu, the assistant director of Part 1, David Wu Dai-Wai, steps into the chair. Yu was still involved in the writing and producing, so it is not clear how much of the change in elements is the fault of Wu vs. Yu, but the result is an inferior product. This doesn’t mean a bad product, far from it, but while Part 1 was exceptional, Part 2 becomes just another good film. For some reason the aspect ratio is also different from Part 1, but with Hong Kong DVDs it is sometimes a mystery as to why films are presented the way they are.
Lien Ni Chang has clearly become the villain. In the ensuing years, she has become more like her insane adoptive conjoined twin parents than comfortable, She often breaks out in insane laughter when doing evil deeds, a mirror of the female half of Chi Wu Shuang. She’s formed a cult of her own, all females who hate men and are prepared to violently destroy any male that crosses their path. There is even an initiation ritual that is packed with religious symbolism. Lien Ni Chang at times channels a cartoonish man-hater. Characters openly declare that all men should die. The women have only male servants – musicians and bathers – who always seem to end up dead before the scene ends. Lien Ni Chang becomes more fleshed out as the story progresses. Beyond her great hatred of men, there is still an underlying pain and longing for Cho, even Chen Yuen Yuen(Ruth Winona Tao) sees it (and hates it!) A hint of a lesbian romance between Lien Ni Chang and her assistant Chen Yuen Yuen is summarily rejected by Ni Chang. Many of her army of killer women have past stories of lovers betraying them and selling them into sex slavery, so it’s hard to not feel sympathy for women who are finally freed from bondage and given tools to strike back against their oppressors.
At the opposite extremes, several of the male rebel characters spend all their time insulting the women, implying all they need is a real man. The weird feminist and antifeminist straw man arguments that pepper some of the scenes give it a strange flavor. The contempt of some of the male characters for the killer women in light of the women’s pasts come off a chauvinistic, even though those women are killing their families. The annoying and goofy Liu (Richard Sun Kwok-Ho, character also called Green in some subtitles) is a huge jerk, but also sympathetic due to his quick wits to save his friends and regret that he never took his kung fu training seriously enough to be an effective enough fighter to help his family. He went from a character I dismissed as simple cannon fodder to something more. Good films will go beyond the typical black and white of right and wrongs, and the multi-layered characters are some of the strongest features of Part 2.
Warning, spoilers below the fold!