The Film: The Sorcerer and the White Snake (2011)
The Principles: Directed by Siu-Tung Ching. Acted by Jet Li, Eva Huang, Raymond Lam, Charlene Choi and Zhang Wen.
The Premise: A flying snake demon (Huang) falls in love with a human herbalist (Lam) after saving his life. The beautiful snake demon loves the man so much, that she forsakes her flying snake demon ways in order to live a normal life with him. Meanwhile, a Shaolin monk (Li) is dedicating his life to fighting violent demons and exorcising them by putting their spirits in a rock and then transferring their souls to a Stargate looking contraption where they can meditate on being a douche. When the monk finds out about the sweet, hot demon/herbalist love, will he let them be happy until the end of their days, or is their mixing of snake and hippy juices too much for the man of action to let slide?
Is It Good: I most certainly wouldn’t use the word “good” to describe it. If you look at the film as an adaptation of the ancient Chinese legend about acceptance of the other, then I suppose it would work for kids, but as a piece of narrative entertainment it’s a bit of a mess. The biggest problem is that the CG never once works enough to bring you into the story they’re trying to tell. If you read the above premise, you might guess that this shit is filled with Shaolin monks fighting Snake Demons, Ice Harpies and Bat Demons, while cute, talking tortoises and mice look on. That sounds awesome, but the director’s eyes were bigger than his stomach budget, because not one aspect of the effects is transportive enough to suspend even a modicum of disbelief. The unimaginatively staged wire-fu and overwrought Shaolin-style kung-fu pull the film down into something like a parody of what someone who had never seen a martial arts movie would imagine it would be like.
This movie should be batshit insane with all the crap floating around in it, but so much of the running time is bogged down by a romance we’re never given any reason to care about. The Snake Demon sees a man she thinks is cute and injects him with some of her Vital Essence through mouth kisses. Now, don’t get me wrong, Snake Lady is stunningly beautiful and charming and I’m sure he would have been all about dating her anyway, but her Essence robs him of his agency to make that choice on his own. Thematically that could have worked in this movie, with the herbalist going on a great quest to save his snake girlfriend when he’s basically ensorcelled by her, however the movie is much more interested in special effects and unfunny slapstick humor to make any emotion stick.
Even with all the insanity set down by the script, White Snake feels derivative of so many other things that even looking at a monk hanging on to a bat lady and floating over a tiny stream filled with rickshaws induces yawning. The film even has an almost shot for shot lift from the scene in The Two Towers when we see Gandalf plunging through Moria, riding the Balrog for all it’s worth. In this one, Jet Li rides a Bat Demon down through the layers of Earth and instead of fighting it with a sword, he has some magical prayer beads. I think it was supposed to come across as homage, but it just felt lazy and unearned. There is a definite escalation of action scenes in the film, yet they all feel so weightless and without stakes that the film never once becomes gripping, even with the fleeting moments of entertainment.
Is It Worth A Look: It’s really not. It’s as simple as this: If I wasn’t committed to writing this review, I never would have finished the film. If you’re a Jet Li completest like I am, then you’re going to watch it anyway and feel confused as to where the Jet Li went that made Fist of Legend, Hero and Fearless. I know he’s getting older and slowing down in the same way Jackie Chan did and I accept that, although there is a ton of fighting and wire work in this and I can’t imagine making shit like White Snake and The Mummy 3 is any easier than making something like Danny the Dog or Black Mask. I think I just need to start getting used to Donnie Yen and move on with my life.
Random Anecdotes: Jet Li was tricked into making this film in that he was told he wouldn’t be fighting much when, in all actuality, he fights in every scene he’s in.
Li also described this role as the most exhausting of his career since he was the only martial artist in the film and he couldn’t go full out on people while they wailed on him.
The original title of this film was “It’s Love”. I think the change was smart and warranted.
Cinematic Soulmates: The Bride with the White Hair, The Two Towers, The Storm Riders, The Storm Warriors, Dr. Wai and the Scriptures with No Words, Tai Chi Zero, The Forbidden Kingdom, Zu Warriors, True Legend, Shrek.