Review Fantasy drama
THE WHITE HAIRED WITCH OF LUNAR KINGDOM (PG13)
104 minutes/Opens tomorrow/**
The story: After getting framed for the murder of a prominent government official, a witch-like woman known as the Jade Raksha (Fan Bingbing) becomes a wanted criminal. At the same time, a young man known as Zhuo Yihang (Huang Xiaoming), the new head of the Non-Affiliated Party, is framed for the murder of the emperor. The two fugitives meet by chance and fall in love. But when news breaks that the Jade Raksha may have been responsible for the murder of Yihang's beloved grandfather, can he still find it in himself to love her?
This is the latest big-screen imagining of Liang Yusheng's serialised fantasy novel The Story Of The White Haired Demoness (1957), a Romeo And Juliettype love story that has seen numerous film and TV adaptations over the past few decades.
The most famous one, of course, is Ronny Yu's movie The Bride With White Hair (1993), starring Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia and the late Leslie Cheung, a film that many movie fans count as a classic of the wuxia fantasy movie genre.
While the newest adaptation by Hong Kong director Jacob Cheung (Cageman, 1992) boasts expensive and some rather impressive CGI effects, none of it can mask the fact that there is an evident lack of chemistry between leads Huang and Fan here.
The Lin-and-Cheung pairing had truly sizzled, but Huang and Fan remain a detached couple even when gazing into each other's eyes and whispering sweet nothings. Surely, this would be a huge disappointment to the many fans who have long anticipated this pairing of two of China's hottest A-list stars.
Director Cheung's version is ironically too messy and overstuffed in its attempts to remain more faithful to the original story.
While Yu's adaptation was a lot looser and focused solely on the main love story, all the complex palace intrigue and politicking from the novel is thrown into the movie here, which makes the proceedings very difficult to follow for non-fans, even if there are occasional footnotes of character names and relationships superimposed on the side of the screen.
That is unsurprising given that the screenplay here was written by no fewer than five writers - all of whom must have brought to the table their own personal and very different takes of the beloved tale. One can imagine the fervent discussions among the many people involved on what should and should not be included from the novel.
The intriguing sub-plot of the political marriage of convenience between Yihang and Tingting (played by Tong Yao) - the beautiful daughter of a scheming eunuch - is just one of many side stories that is set up and then gets too easily resolved, or even forgotten altogether, as the movie nears its end.
Had these sub-plots been spread out over multiple episodes of a TV series, they may have seen more life. But jam-pack them all in a single film and there is simply too much to take in at once. By the time the movie returns to the romantic couple at the centre of it all, it is hard to care about their fate, their apparent lack of passion notwithstanding.