White-Haired Witch (2014)

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Hong Kong auteur Jacob Cheung brings the story of The Bride with White Hair in this new re-telling of Liang Yusheng’s classic novel.

Having proven himself worthy of the title “Head of Wudang”, Zhuo Yihang  is asked to deliver red pills to the dying emperor in hopes to cure him as Wudang have had a respectable alliance with the Empire. However, when the Emperor mysteriously dies after taking the red pills, Wudang has somewhat become an enemy. However, that doesn’t stop the young Zhuo, who on his journey, meets a mysterious woman with no name, who is known as Jade Raksha, a Robin Hood-like clan leader who serves to help the poor who have been suffering under a rival empire.

Zhuo and the woman, whom he names Lian Nishang, are instantly attracted to each other and begin a love relationship despite objections from Nishang’s late teacher, who warns her that “love is the deadliest poison”. When Zhuo learns that Nishang is the prime suspect in his grandfather’s death, he refuses to believe it and after learning the real culprit, decides to infiltrate the real murderer’s family by marrying his daughter. When Nishang learns of the fateful union, she is convinced at first that Zhuo doesn’t love her anymore and the now embittered Lian sports white hair as part of her anger. However, upon learning the truth, she still feels love for Zhuo as they plot to take down a rival army together with the help of those who care about saving their kingdom.

When director Ronny Yu took on LIang Yusheng’s story over two decades ago, The Bride with White Hair became one of the biggest box-office smashes and its sequel fared almost quite as well. The character is quite an interesting one, one who gets the white hair as part of her anger and resentment towards loving someone only to get hurt. Another Bingbing, Li Bingbing, played the character in The Forbidden Kingdom as she seems to have had gotten hurt not by a scholar, but rather Jackie Chan’s drunken master character.

Where Brigitte Lin and Li Bingbing’s characters were so much more vicious in white-haired mode, Fan Bingbing brings a subtler take on the role of the titular character. Starting out as a Robin Hood-like character who helps the poor, she continues to feel that way even after her transformation. Meanwhile, Huang Xiao-Ming’s Zhuo Yihang is no longer a scholar, but rather a martial arts warrior who is given the title of Head of Wudang after a test in which he sacrifices himself to assist a fellow Wudang student. The love story is nicely done as it is does make its purpose of the film.

One has to mention Vincent Zhao, who plays the villain of the film. He plays Jin, a general who is widely respectable but turns out is even more nefarious that he wants everyone to believe. Cecilia Yip makes a special appearance as the master of Lian, who through her spirit, warns her of “love being the most dangerous poison”. Interestingly enough, Lian still feels she cannot just hide her feelings for Zhuo, even when he marries another in an attempt to infiltrate his grandfather’s real killer.

In charge of the action sequences is the legendary Stephen Tung Wai. He makes the cast look impressive with a lot of swordplay and wire-stunts seen in the wuxia pian genre. The elaborate battles scenes mostly involve military like action mixed in with the high-flying sword style as well as dart throwing in the case of Nishang. The action complements the dramatic love story quite well and plays an integral part in the overall story.

While White-Haired Witch doesn’t have the style that comes close to The Bride with White Hair film series, this re-telling of the classic tale holds its own for the new millennium thanks to the performances of Fan Bingbing and Huang Xiao-Ming. However, it is fair to say the Ronny Yu film is ten times better. This is worth at least a rental though.

WFG RATING: B-

Well Go USA presents a Bona Entertainment Co. Ltd./Wanda Film and TV Media Co. Ltd. production in association with Youku Tudou Corp. and Omnijoi Media Corp. Co. Ltd. Director: Jacob Cheung. Producer: Huang Jianxin. Writers: Kang Qiao, Wang Bing, Zhu Yali, Shi Heran, and Guo Junli; based on the novel “Baifa Monu Zhuan” by Liang Yusheng. Cinematography: Ardy Lam, Chow Gei-Seung, Dick Tung, and Rick Tullis. Editing: Kwong Chi-Leung.

Cast: Huang Xiaoming, Fan Bingbing, Vincent Zhao, Shera Li, Wang Buexing, Kevin Yan, Cecilia Yip, Ni Dahong, Yu Chenghui, Xu Xiangdong, Sun Jiankui, Xue Jian. Hu Xiaoguang, Tong Yao.

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