Tuesday, March 10, 2015

White Haired Witch: A New Demon Bride for a New Generation

Up until The Matrix, they were cinema’s most troublesome red pills. The historically based “Case of the Red Pills” inspired Liang Yusheng’s wuxia novel, Ronny Yu’s memorable screen treatment, The Bride with White Hair, as well as a sequel and several television serials. However, it is Fan Bingbing’s snowy mane that most fans will most remember about the latest adaptation, Jacob Cheung’s White Haired Witch (trailer here), which releases today on DVD and BluRay from Well Go USA.

Due to his talent and natural lack of ambition, Zhuo Yihang has been anointed the successor to the leader of the Wudang Sect. His first official duty will be to pay tribute to the emperor with an offering of the order’s red pills. Obviously, such a gift presents an ambitious eunuch like Wei Zhongxian the perfect opportunity to dispatch the emperor and blame an innocent fall guy, which he will not squander. Taking the long way home to visit his grandfather, a military governor on the frontier, Zhuo initially has no idea he has been falsely accused. Nor is he aware his grandfather was murdered by the treasonous general Jin Duyi, who similarly framed the demon-outlaw known as “Jade Rakshasha.” However, he sure thinks she is something when he encounters her during his journey.

Soon Zhuo is forced to take refuge in Jade Rakshasha’s Luna Fortress. Ming-era Tracey & Hepburn sparks continue to fly between them, while Zhuo proves his worth to community. Of course, they inevitably fall in love, but they will be separated when Zhuo willingly surrenders to the feared imperial guard, rather than risk the lives of the displaced peasantry sheltered in Luna. He will eventually regain his freedom by skillfully playing a double game with Eunuch Wei, even going so far as to marry his innocent daughter, Ke Pingting (she came before his you know what), but the apparent betrayal turns Jade Rakshasha’s hair white. It also makes her mad, which is never a good idea.

Yes, Fan Bingbing looks great with white hair. She also looks fab and establishes decent action cred in her fight scenes. Just for the record, Fan probably kicks more butt in Witch than the entire cast of the prospective “Expendabelles film. You could make an equivalent film any day of the week in Hong Kong or Taiwan, but you simply won’t find an ensemble with the chops in Hollywood.

Be that as it may, Fan’s chemistry with Huang Xiaoming’s Zhuo is just okay. Frankly, he is a little stiff at times, but since he was working for a considerable time with a broken leg, he earns points for being a gamer. In limited screen time, Tanya Tong makes a strong impression humanizing the visiting team as Wei’s daughter Ke. Vincent Zhao chews plenty of scenery as the dastardly Jin, but he also gets to show a more nuanced side of the turncoat.

There are a number of big names in Witch’s ensemble, but along with Fan, the real stars are Stephen Tung’s fight choreography and the Oscar winning (for Crouching Tiger) Timmy Yip’s costuming. Frankly, it is a bit conspicuous that the intricate narrative has been somewhat abridged, but at least Cheung keeps the energy level up. It really is a lot of fun, as long as you can handle a tragically sweeping grand finale. Seriously, would you expect anything else? Recommended for fans of Fan and wuxia, White Haired Witch is now available on DVD and digital platforms from Well Go USA.