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The Sorcerer and the White Snake(2011)
Fantasy film based on an old Chinese legend about an herbalist who falls in love with a thousand-year-old White Snake disguised as a woman. Jet Li stars as a sorcerer who discovers her true identity and battles to save the man's soul.
For more about The Sorcerer and the White Snake and the The Sorcerer and the White Snake Blu-ray release, see the The Sorcerer and the White Snake Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on April 11, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Jet Li, Shengyi Huang, Raymond Lam
Director: Siu-Tung Ching
» See full cast & crew
The Sorcerer and the White Snake Blu-ray Review
Empty CGI spectacle—and the CGI isn't even that great.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, April 11, 2013
On paper, The Sorcerer and the White Snake sounds like China's answer to The Lord of the Rings—it's a big-budget fantasy epic with mythological creatures, wire-fu wuxia swordplay, and a tale that takes place across stunning, larger-than-life landscapes. Unfortunately, in execution, it's more like China's Van Helsing—a thrill-less supernatural thriller that's all empty CGI spectacle. Albeit here, the CGI looks like it would've been cutting-edge circa 1994. The compositing is bad. There's a distinct lack of texture. The animation is wonky. It would be easier to overlook the technical shortcomings if the rest of the film were better, but The Sorcerer and the White Snake is an all-around subpar effort, 100 minutes of cornball romance and talking animals and lazy, obligatory-feeling martial arts. Yes, Jet Li stars—and his name alone will most likely sell a few copies of the movie—but he's nearly as underused here as he was in The Expendables. When he does get to kick ass, the focus is less on him than the chintzy computer effects surrounding him. This is particularly disappointing since the film is directed by Tony Ching, co-director of the Swordman trilogy and the action coordinator on Hero and House of Flying Daggers. The man knows martial arts action.
Jet Li plays Abbott Fahai, a buddhist exorcist and "dharma defender" who runs the Lei Feng Pagoda, a monastery that's also a prison for the various demons and hobgoblins that the ass-kicking monk has captured using his magical stone bowl, which basically serves the same function as the Proton Pack from Ghostbusters. When he's not meditating, Fahai wanders the countryside with his acolyte, Neng Ren (Wan Zhang), hunting these spirit world denizens, who have crossed over into the natural realm to wreak havoc or just have a little fun at the expense of mere mortals.
White Snake (Eva Huang) and Green Snake (Charlene Choi) fall into the latter, less malevolent category. Half-woman/half-serpent, the two cavort through a mountain range, where they spy the budding physician Xu Xian (Raymond Lam) gathering herbs. Green Snake scares him, causing him to fall into the lake below, but the more conscientious White Snake dives in after Xu Xian—assuming fully human shape—and kisses him underwater, transferring some of her life energy and keeping him from drowning. She's gone by the time his friends drag him on-shore, but their short sub-aquatic make-out session is apparently enough to make them both fall in pining, heart-wrenching, instantaneous love. It's The Little Mermaid, essentially.
White Snake gets her chance to be "part of his world" when she reunites with Xu Xian at a small village's Lantern Festival, where Fahai and Neng Ren are also snooping around, hunting a cadre of blood-sucking, disease-spreading female bat-demons. While the two lovebirds get acquainted—and eventually marry, though Xu Xian doesn't know what his wife really is—the monk and his underling do battle with the forces of darkness, eventually leading us to the two main conflicts of the plot: 1.) Neng Ren gets bitten and begins turning into a demon himself, and 2.) Fahai starts to suspect that White Snake isn't human and sets in motion a plan to reveal her true form.
A bastardized version of a popular and oft-adapted Chinese folk tale, the film's story is told in the broadest strokes possible, eliminating any possibility of thematic and emotional nuance. There's no substance to the characters or their plights, and as if to compensate, the acting—especially from Eva Huang and Charlene Choi—goes overly theatrical, the line readings drowning in weepy romance or puffed up on artificial anger. Jet Li is the only one showing any restraint here, and it's probably because he's bored, performing against green-screen and twirling around a prop pole blade with precision but indifference. He's not just phoning it in, he's calling long-distance.
What does the movie offer? Well, if you're the sort of person who enjoys films precisely because they're cheesy in an oddly entertaining way, you may get a brief kick out of The Sorcerer and the White Snake's weirder additions, like the scene where Fahai is tempted by sexy spirits who are actually tiny white demon foxes, more cuddly than ferocious. Or, his use of prayer beads as a throwing weapon. Or, the blatant ripoff of the fiery Balrog sequence in Lord of the Rings. Or, the prolonged underwater kisses, of which there are several. And sure, there are at least two or three decent fight scenes, although they're less notable for the martial arts on display than for the strangely outdated-looking CGI that's used to supplement them. You'd never mistake The Sorcerer and the White Snake for a Grade-A Hollywood production; some of the effects are closer to the pre-vis work you'd see on something like Avatar.
The Sorcerer and the White Snake Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Sorcerer and the White Snake has an odd visual aesthetic for 2013; on one hand, it's filled with CGI—outdated, texture-less CGI—and on the other, it was shot on very grainy 35mm stock. The digital/analog combo definitely adds to the are you sure this film isn't from the 1990s? vibe. Magnolia's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer at least seems true to source, although that source is a little grubby-looking. I even noticed occasional white specks on the print, which is rare for a relatively new theatrical release. Overall, the image is a bit on the soft side—with the heavy grain structure obscuring what might otherwise be fine detail—but from a normal viewing distance this isn't really an issue, unless you're watching via projector or on an extremely large screen. Color is more immediately striking, with a dense grading of generally warm tones and splashes of intensity, like the red gown on the "ice harpy" at the beginning of the film. Contrast is balanced well, and there are no issues with overpowering black levels or wonky skin tones. Likewise, noise reduction and edge enhancement are kept out of the equation here, and I didn't spot any obvious compression or encode problems. Do note that the film was originally released in post-converted 3D in China, but Magnolia has opted not to do a 3D Blu-ray edition here.
The Sorcerer and the White Snake Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Magnolia has included two audio options, the original Mandarin and an English dub, both in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. (As you'd probably expect, the dub is goofy and stilted, so I'd recommend sticking with the default track.) Though not quite up to the fantasy epic sound design standard set by the Lord of the Rings movies, this is a fairly full-bodied mix that makes good use of the surround speakers in just about every scene. Ambience is quiet but welcome—hear the clamor of the village festival, wind rustling through bamboo trees, bubbles gurgling underwater, lapping waves—and there are occasional cross-channel effects during the more intense, action-oriented sequences. Mark Lui's score also spreads out across the soundfield, with Chinese violin and flute vibrating up front while orchestral instrumentation swells in the rears. Everything is clear and dynamically solid, and the dialogue rests at the top of the mix, always easy to understand. The disc includes English, English SDH, English Titles and Text, and Spanish subtitles.
The Sorcerer and the White Snake Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The disc features a trio of behind the scenes featurettes with the usual assortment of interviews and on-set footage, plus a quick promo that ran on AXS TV and the film's theatrical trailer.
The Sorcerer and the White Snake Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
If you're going to make a spectacle film that puts CGI ahead of story, you'd better make sure the digital effects are actually impressive and not the sort of low-texture, badly animated stuff you remember seeing from late 1990s video game cutscenes. The Sorcerer and the White Snake is a big- budget movie that looks like a low-budget movie trying to be a big-budget movie—if that makes any sense—and it doesn't really work on any level, with hammy acting and goofy comedy and rote martial arts action. Fans of cornball kung-fu movies might find something to enjoy here, but this is one of those so-cheesy-it's-possibly-entertaining situations that will be fun for some and torture for others. I'd watch the trailer before considering a blind buy.
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The Sorcerer and the White Snake Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Sorcerer and the White Snake Blu-ray Detailed - March 20, 2013
Magnolia Pictures has detailed the Blu-ray release of action director Ching Siu-Tung's The Sorcerer and the White Snake. Based on the Chinese legend, "Madame White Snake," the film tells the story of a holy warrior (Jet Li) who must battle a thousand-year-old creature ...
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