There are few films that effortlessly blend genres and moods to perfectly create a cohesive whole. The Sorcerer and the White Snake, which I will henceforth refer to as TSATWS, comes darn close.
TSATWS is, at its heart, a tale of forbidden love. However, it also stars Jet Li as a demon hunting warrior monk and prominently features ice harpies, bat demons, and snake women. There are echoes of the Little Mermaid, Midsummer Night’s Dream , as well as any number of fantasy adventures. The film is centered on the character of Xu Xian, a medicinal herb expert, and SuSu, who becomes the love of his lifter after she saves him from drowning. What Xu Xian does not know is that his rescuer is actually a snake demon, who after their fateful encounter longs to return to the world of man to be with him. SuSu’s sister and fellow snake demon Quinquing, reluctantly agrees to help her sister.
Elsewhere father Abbot Fahai (Li) is hunting down the bat demons that are causing havoc near his monastery. Aided by his assistant Neng Ren, they soon track down these creatures. However in the battle Neng Ren is bitten and infected, causing him to slowly turn into a bat demon himself! Who better to help him cope with his new form than Quingquing, who meets him while helping Suse reunite with Xu Xian. When Abbot Fahai learns of Susu’s true nature it becomes his mission to put an end to the affair and save Xu Xian’s soul. It is not long though before Fahai will be questioning if Xu Xian needs to be saved. If all that sounds overwhelming, let me just say that watching the film I had a smile on my face from the opening moments to the end credits, and it plays out much smother in the course of the film then in an attempt at summarizing.
TSATWS is full of spectacle, with massive action sequences that combine wire-work style martial arts with extensive CGI work. The CGI work never really looks fully realistic, but this works in the films fantasy-fairy tale style. The imagery had a painterly feel, recalling the fantasy artwork from the likes of the Brothers Hildebrandt or Frank Frazetta. The colors and visuals are beautiful if not fully convincing. What really holds the film together though is the emotion connecting all the action and adventure. You really root for Xu Xian and SuSu to overcome the obstacles keeping them from their union of true love. At the same time, you understand Abbot Fahai’s goals to combat his perceived evils, and feel for him when his belief systems are called into question.
Neng Ren serves as the film’s comic relief, with his sort of bumbling nature early on and his comically horrified reaction to his demonification later on. While I did enjoy his story, the tone of many of his scenes is so wildly different then the poetic romance or dizzying adventure of the rest of the film that this was the one tonal shift that I felt might be too much. However this is a small quibble at what is otherwise a fantastic journey, filled to the brim with romance and action. TSATWS is a film I look forward to revisiting.
NOTE: I saw the film on 2D Blu-ray. Apparently elsewhere the film was available in 3D, and there was some imagery in the film that seemed as though it was intended for 3D viewing.