Corn Syrup Kung Fu
For years now I have been a Jet Li fan. He has always been exciting to watch, even if the films he has been in weren't that great. As time has gone by though he has gotten better and the films he chooses to be apart have gotten better. So, when I went to watch The Sorcerer and the White Snake I was not expecting to watch a movie that would use up two hours of my time the way being stuck in traffic does. I know I watched a film with Jet Li, but I didn't see Jet li. What I saw was a cheap candy coated dose of twisted Chinese legends with an unclear pseudo religious message.
The story follows two characters, a demon who is a white snake lady and a monk, who hunts demons. The white snake is named Susu, played by Huang Shengyi, and she has a sister, the green snake, Qingqing, played by Charlene Choi. They decide to make some friendly trouble for a group of humans traveling in their neighborhood. The humans are collecting herbs for medicines and are being lead by a young man who wants to be a doctor, Xu Xian, played by Raymond Lam. During this little escapade of the snake sisters, Susu falls in love with Xu Xian and decides to try to seduce him and live in the world of humans. She gets Qingqing to help her in this endeavor during a village festival in the town that Xu Xian lives in, which puts Qingqing in contact with her own human interest. Long story short, Susu succeeds in winning Xu Xian's love and they get married and begin building a life together.
The second main character is the Abbot Fahai, played by Jet Li. The good Abbot is roaming about the countryside with his apprentice Neng Ren, played by Wen Zhang, hunting demons. When they find demons they defeat them in combat and suck their souls into a holy bowl to take back to the monastery. There the souls are trapped in a huge mirror that acts like a prison for demons, think General Zod in the original Superman. The Abbot is hunting down fox demons when he encounters Susu and her husband who are battling an infection spread among the people of the village by the same fox demons. Susu helps Xu Xian develop a cure for the disease with her demon spit. Fahai, after dispatching the fox demons, turns his attention to Susu. He tells her that since she helped the people he won't hurt her, but she must leave her husband, as her marriage is a lie. Demons can't love after all. She refuses and thus a war between the Abbot Fahai and the snake sisters ensue.
I would like to write a paragraph about what was good with this movie, but I am not interested in working that hard. First and foremost, this film was sold on it's looks, and those looks just aren't that great. The movie is heavy with CGI and none of it really good. Neng Ren is turned into a demon and looks more like the old Japanese manga Devilman. The actresses playing the snakes are beautiful women, but when attached to the snake bodies it looks like the CGI continues up on to their faces, making them look CGI as well. It actually takes a lot away from their natural beauty. The final fight scene involves a lot of water and the animators manage to ruin the realistic look of crushing waves. The effects just end up being see through candy coating, like fake chocolate covering corn syrup.
The writing is weak as well. First there are the romance scenes between Susu and Xu Xian, all of which seems forced, over the top cliches. There is no belief in love established here. Second, the dialogues between Fahai and Neng Ren, which I think are supposed to be funny, just aren't. The dialgues between Fahai and Susu, which include threats and aggression, are deadpan. Jet Li, who I know can be funny, is not and he is not even threatening when he is giving Susu her ultimatum. Then, there is the interactions between Neng Ren and Qingqing. It appears Qingqing when wants a human of her own she goes after poor Brother Neng Ren. This is all supposed to be cute and funny and it fails miserably. That doesn't stop them from at the end having a demon Neng Ren comfort his lovely snake girlfriend after she is beaten by Fahai. Very unbelievable sorrow. Last, there is the ending itself, where the script ties itself into knots.
I don't mind telling you this as I am recommending you don't bother watching this film, unless you need a laxative. The Abbot wishes to see Susu punished for not ending her marriage. Fahai kidnaps Xu Xian to erase all memory of Susu from his mind. Susu tries to stop this in the final battle. It is only when she agrees with Buddha, yes Buddha, that she renounce her marriage and spend her time for her crimes, which is apparently getting married and helping people, that the Buddha allows her to say good bye to her husband. She is then locked away in the demon prison in hopes of being reborn as something better than a demon. Fahai, sees he has been too cruel and indiscriminate in his demon hunting and chooses to be a more a peaceful guy by making sure the demons he hunts really deserve it. He even takes along the newly demonized Neng Ren to show his new turned leaf to the world.
All throughout this film we are exposed to religious imagery through the poor CGI. So much so, that I began to wonder if Jet Li made this film solely to sell Buddhism. The problem is the religious message, if there is one, is not clear. What is clear wouldn't sell Buddhism very well. All the demons, except Neng Ren, are women, good looking women. They tempt Fahai at every turn and like the Buddha avoiding temptation under the Bodhi tree Fahai chants his way through their sexy beastly dances. Fahai accuses Susu that her love is a lie and she just used magic to seduce poor Xu Xian in to marriage. The message I am exposing is one that suggests women are treacherous, seducers who led men astray. At the end Fahai realizes that Susu's love was real and he is generous enough to wish her well during her time in demon prison. So, the message can be summed up that women are damned if they do and damned if they don't. Archaic modes of cultural thinking that had nothing to do with real Buddhism is what Jet Li let slip into his film. Now, maybe all this was apart of the original legend, I would say that matters little as well. The Chinese, like many other cultures, attached their own beliefs and ideas to the teachings brought back home by silk road travelers like Xaunzang. We all know what Buddha said about attachment, don't we?
In conclusion, don't watch this. Find something else, an older Jet Li film, or a live action movie without cartoon effects, or a story based on something besides a legend that sounds more like a poorly written manga.