Distributed by GKIDS
The latest animated film from China about the Legend of the White Snake is making its rounds at film festivals, like Fantasia 2019. As a prequel, the setup is simplified. White Snake (白蛇) defines Xiao Bai as the main character. Her story is familiar, and is no different in scope when compared to William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
This computer animated work is very Disney-esque–complete with the prerequisite sidekick comic relief. When a medicine-man (not wanting to be a snake catcher) Xuan (Tianxiang Yang) rescues Bai (Zhang Zhe), her anmesia results in her having to figure out who she is. The story begins with us knowing that she is a spirit from the mountains–a white snake–attempting to attain that higher level of harmony (immortality, according to the subtitles–which makes little sense when spirits are technically very long-lived). However, a memory is holding her back and what she learns which makes up the film is one of sorrow and sacrifice.
This tale tries to make the story universally accessible, and it succeeds. Dudau, Xuan’s pet canine is completely unnecessary; first-time feature film writer Damao may have drawn from Tsui Hark’s animated Chinese Ghost Story (1997) where the dog was important to help the couple survive the reincarnation gate. Even comparisons can be made to the Green Snake (1993). The comedy is light, the romance is heavy, and the grande battle borrows from World of Warcraft. Although the two will not admit to being in love, their feelings are obvious to the enemy–talking snakes. They have more invested stakes in the plot that’s afoot.
All serpents are fearful of staying above ground because the Emperor of China ordered their extinction. He believes that by capturing and slaying them will save the empire. His number one–a Taoist general–serves his lord, and has his own agenda too.
Story-wise, the villains could be better. The mischievous Fox Spirit (Zheng Xiaopu and Zhang Lei) has her own motives which conflicts with the real villain. This dual personality is like Loki from the Marvel films, a trickster. Odin, er the Snake Master (Liu Wei) is the ringleader of all this mess and she’s a wily one. I miss the badass demons the original Chinese Ghost Story films had. They dominated and had absolute control of the spirits of those buried nearby.
Despite a very Hollywood style story and only one musical moment, the CGI and technicolour visuals are gorgeous to behold. I will never tire of watching these films because of the exotic locales used.
With this film’s central theme, it’s easy to tell how love is a many-splendored thing–even if it takes centuries to find. As for whether they will make a part two, it’s questionable. While Eastern audiences know this tale very well, others may not and I recommend reading it than to seek the latest theatrical interpretation of this fable.
4 Stars out of 5