Sorcerer and the White Snake, The

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/06/12 16:35:30

"Jet Li fights CGI demons to a draw."
3 stars (Average)

SCREENED AT THE 2012 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: In the opening segment of "The Sorcerer and the White Snake" (aka "It's Love"), an ice harpy played by Vivian Hsu throws boulder-sized hailstones at demon-hunting monk Fahai, who is able to dodge and counter-attack three or four times for every one that gets near him. The lesson: CGI can't keep up with Jet Li, even at this stage of his career. It will, however, try its hardest, though as is often the case, it can't make up for an iffy script.

After defeating the harpy and imprisoning it in the Lei Feng Pagoda at the Jin Shan Temple, Fahei (Li) and his disciple Neng Ran (Zhang Wen) have a bat demon to find, but unbeknownst to them, it isn't the only demon at the Lantern Festival. Susu (Huang Sheng-yi) and Qingqing (Charlene Choi), two beautiful and mischievous snake demon sisters, have come to the mortal world because Susu has become smitten with Xu Xian (Raymond Lam), an herbalist whose life she saved earlier. They fall in love, and might live happily ever after, except that Fahei discovers Susu while chasing some other demons - and there can be no intermingling between the mortal and supernatural worlds.

Put that way, Fahai kind of sounds like the villain of the piece, or at least a more complex character than he is generally portrayed as. That the movie doesn't make him examining his prejudices a central part of the story rather than something that gets brief lip service during the finale isn't really a failing as much as a notable missed opportunity and indicative of how the film rushes between extremes. There's the pure doe-eyed love between Susu and Xu Xian one minute, effects-driven action the next, and if something is less than immediately gratifying, it falls by the wayside. Qingqing and Neng Ran disappear for most of the movie, and some non-trivial amount of money was spent to give Susu talking animal friends in one scene that never show up again (well, except for the rat).

There are, at least, a lot of visual effects and eye-candy to stimulate the audience. The lantern festival, for instance, is big, bright, and busy enough to call to mind a modern city with canals instead of streets, with those canals giving Li a neat setting for an action scene. Kids appear to be a large part of the target audience, from the bright colors and occasionally cute character designs, and I actually wish there were more of the rabbit and the turtle. The disaster-movie stuff in the end looks quite good, and while some of the fantastical environments are a bit abstract, it works for the story's mythic setting. The effects teams do have some issues with snakes, which is rather unfortunate given the title of the movie - whether it's putting a woman's torso on a snake's body, animating a giant serpent, or having tentacles attack, the effects look a bit off.

Jet Li still looks good in action, although for this movie that often involves wire work, defending against CGI creatures, and striking poses so that energy can be shot from his hands. He moves well, though, and does a pretty good job of selling the fight scenes that do involve other people, especially considering that most of them are relatively untrained women. He's also a charismatic screen presence, authoritative but also confident enough in it to tell a joke or two.

The rest of the cast does nicely enough. Raymond Lam and Huang Sheng-yi make a good pair as Xu Xian and Susu, selling love at first sight and making the characters genuinely pleasant enough to keep the audience in their corner. Zhang Wen and Charlene Choi are good enough in their sidekick roles (separately and together) that it would have been nice to see more of them.

Now, a lot of things that seem sloppy to a western audience might seem perfectly reasonable to those familiar with the original Chinese folklore. Still, it's frequently frustrating, because there are pieces of a good movie here, but the result is rather less than the sum of its parts.

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