Huangmeixi tragic opera in which Bai Suzhen, and her younger sister, Qingqing are centuries old snake spirits who have trained to take on human form for a thousand years. Suzhen takes the ...
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Huangmeixi tragic opera in which Bai Suzhen, and her younger sister, Qingqing are centuries old snake spirits who have trained to take on human form for a thousand years. Suzhen takes the form of a young doctor and falls for Mr. Xu, a poor pharmacist who rescued her beaten snake form in a previous incarnation, and Qinqing her handmaiden and matchmaker. Although the medicine Suzhen makes has saved countless people, many monks insist that they are snakes and inherently evil, and try to make Xian escape them and become a monk himself. When he learns the truth with the posions from the Dragon Boat festival, he is literally scared to death. Suzhen, though pregnant, must then fly to the celestial mountains and battle for the flower that can restore him to life.Written by
Scott Andrew Hutchins <email@example.com>
MADAM WHITE SNAKE –Lavish Shaw Bros. version of classic folk tale
MADAM WHITE SNAKE (1962) is yet another version of the oft-filmed tale of two snake sisters, White and Green, who take on human form and live in the human world with White marrying a young scholar, Xu Xian (Chao Lei), and angering a self-righteous Buddhist monk, Fahai (Yang Chi-ching), who vows to drive out the non-humans. This production boasts top-of-the-line Shaw Bros. production values—beautiful color, pretty costumes, elaborate sets, etc.—and is performed in full Huangmei Opera mode, where most of the dialogue is sung. Linda Lin Dai and Margaret Tu Chuan play the snake sisters in highly stylized mode, with lots of formal gestures and movements as if they're overdoing the formality in order to hide their snake origins and appear more human. Things look awfully theatrical at times, as when Lin Dai encounters "celestial spirits" on Mount Kunlun, where she's traveled to get a special herb to revive her husband, and she fights them in a theatrical, almost pantomime manner, complete with stage percussion effects. I found it of academic interest, but not terribly cinematic or exciting.
The angry monk, Fahai, normally the chief antagonist in this story, has a curiously shortened role in the proceedings. Not a lot happens in the film, nor is there much suspense. Things come to a halt when the characters start singing to each other. I'm not sure the Huangmei Opera style is well-suited to this particular story, at least on film. It's great for court dramas like DIAU CHARN and THE GRAND SUBSTITUTION and romances like THE KINGDOM AND THE BEAUTY and LOVE ETERNE (THE BUTTERFLY LOVERS), where the characters' emotions and shifts in relations are at the forefront and the lyrics are used to chart the development of characters' knowledge about each other. But a story like WHITE SNAKE needs less singing and more attention to action and special effects, considering the various threats to the snake sisters and Xu Xian. There's a nice shot early on where the sisters magically transform an abandoned estate into something new and sumptuous in order to entice Xu Xian when he visits them. But we really don't get anything comparable until the big special effects finale where the sisters divert the Yangtze River to hit the temple where Fahai and his monks are holding Xu Xian captive. Even then, the miniature effects are not well integrated with the shots with actors, so we never get the sense that the water is actually threatening any of the characters.
Having said all that, I should stress that the lead actresses, Lin Dai and Tu Chuan, are both quite beautiful and charismatic and handle the emotional demands of their roles with great skill. They're always a pleasure to behold in these early Shaw Bros. productions.
I've seen three other versions of this tale, including a live-action Japanese film (MADAME WHITE SNAKE, 1956), an animated Japanese feature (HAKUJADEN, aka PANDA AND THE MAGIC SERPENT, 1958), and a new wave Hong Kong spectacle directed by Tsui Hark (GREEN SNAKE, 1993). Of these, I find GREEN SNAKE to be the most effective and the most cinematic. It brings out the crucial erotic elements in the story and its lead actresses, Joey Wang and Maggie Cheung, convincingly portray the unique efforts the snake sisters have to make in order to appear human and keep from reverting back to snake form when aroused. It also, surprisingly, closely follows the basic plot of the 1962 version.
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