THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE blu-ray review

Hong Kong Region A blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 2.35:1

Mandarin DTS-HD MA 7.1 (original)

Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 (dub)

Subtitles: English, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese

IMDB

 

MOVIE: 8

VIDEO QUALITY: 9.5

AUDIO QUALITY: 9.5

ENGLISH SUBTITLES: 9.5

EXTRAS: 2

 

I’m glad I ignored all those people who criticized The Sorcerer and the White Snake for having poor CGI special effects. I got excited for this movie when I watched the trailer and was pretty amazed by the special effects. It’s a good thing I reminded myself that a lot of people grade CGI special effects on the effects themselves, regardless how they mix with the movie as a whole. I care about the final product – how everything merges together well. I don’t remember anyone criticizing the Star Wars prequels due to poor special effects. But the Star Wars prequels are the worst kind of awkward mix of CGI special effects and live actors I’ve ever seen. Those movies have three levels – live actors, CGI characters, and green screen backgrounds. None of them work together well and none of them even work well with each other at their own levels – the live actors can’t act with the other live actors. The CGI characters have no chemistry with the other CGI characters. The live actors don’t have any connection to their CGI green screen backgrounds. Make any combination you want – the Star Wars prequels are the best example of awful CGI special effects not working in harmony. To name a few more, think of Sky Captain, The Spirit, or the Spy Kids sequels.  The Sorcerer and the White Snake not only has beautiful special effects (I’ll get to the “quality” of them soon in this review), but it’s another good example of CGI-galore movie that has all those parts – the live actors, the CGI special effects, and the green-screen backgrounds – all working together in harmony, just as in films like Sin City, 300, and Immortals.

Regarding the “quality” of the special effects is something to talk about. The director, Tony Ching Siu-Tung, made this epic fantasy film for twenty-five million dollars. Give the guy a break. Polished special effects for the kind of epic visuals shown in this film would cost over hundred million dollars. He did a fantastic job with the budget he was given. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jet Li got most of the money from that budget. Either way, The Sorcerer and the White Snake has various degrees of CGI quality. It ranges all over the place from excellent to almost cartoonish. But that’s the charm of the movie. The director put most of the money into more visually important scenes. When the two female leads play green and white snakes slithering in a graceful and dreamlike way like mermaids, the effects look good. But when they transform into total creatures, the snakes do tend to look cartoonish. It’s not a big deal. It’s not a distraction. Remember that everything works well together. All the actors are excellent. The CGI characters have great chemistry with the live actors. And the CGI backgrounds seem real to all the characters. Even though I thought some of the CGI special effects looked cartoonish, I was not thinking to myself, “oh, they are just acting in front of a green screen” (which is all I could think of when watching the Star Wars prequels). The CGI special effects also are creatively done. I cherish creativity more than polish.

The Sorcerer and the White Snake is a totally visually creative and mesmerizing fantasy film based on a famous Chinese folklore. As CGI special effects get better, I’m so happy that China can now make more impressive visually epic fairytale films. For anyone that’s ever read a Chinese fairytale book, they all need to be made into movies. For example, Monkey King is the most famous Chinese fairytale (with tons of movie and tv adaptations the past fifty years). The Sorcerer and the White Snake has three interesting stories going on – a duo of demon busters preventing and catching demons from roaming the Earth, one snake-demon sister who falls in love with a human, and the other snake-demon sister who questions one of the demon busters to why he is even capturing demons at all. The story is exciting, has good acting by all the leads (Jet Li, Shengyi Huang, Raymond Lam, Charlene Choi, and Zhang Wen). The movie definitely belongs to Shengyi Huang, the hot actress who plays the white snake-demon. Although she isn’t the next Zhang Ziyi, her acting skills are quite impressive and she has great chemistry with all the actors she plays off of. It’s a simply fairytale story. It would be a shame to criticize the film for not having depth or substance. First of all, there aren’t too many fantasy films with serious substance from any country. There’s Lord of the Rings and that’s about it. People looking for substance in fantasy films are in denial that most of the highly entertaining fantasy films that have existed for so many years usually have more style and creativity than substance.

I have always loved this director, Tony Ching. He’s my second favorite Hong Kong director after Yimou Zhang. He not only directs entertaining Hong Kong films, he’s also one of the best action choreographers. I prefer his style over Woo Ping Yeun, Tsui Hark, John Woo, Corey Yeun (whom I all like as well).

The K & R Region A blu-ray does not disappoint in the video and audio department. As expected for a Chinese fairytale flick, the video quality is a beautiful tapestry of crisp, bright colors which is clear and sharp. As I said earlier, the CGI effects blend nicely with the live actors – the video quality of this blu-ray shows off how everything merges together nicely. Blacks and contrast come out with impressive results as well. The DTS-HD 7.1 is just about perfect for this type of film. Surrounds are incredibly active, with one of the most impressive audio mixes from a Hong Kong blu-ray this year. The musical score (which at times reminded me a bit of the awesome score from The Fountain) sounds great on this blu-ray too. The English subtitles were practically perfect except for one spelling mistake. The translation was surprisingly good for a Hong Kong blu-ray. I wish K & R used the translators for their older films released on blu (K & R or Fortune Star stick with the old Chinglish subtitles when it comes to their older films released on blu). The only extras were a trailer (English-subtitled and 1080p) and an 18-minute making-of-the-film (also English subtitled).

I’ve been pleased with the few Hong Kong movies I’ve seen in 2011 – if I had to rank them from great to good, I would say, “Detective Dee, Gallants, The Sorcerer and the White Snake, and then Reign of Assassins.” The Sorcerer and the White Snake is a totally entertaining fantasy film with very creative special effects (with varying degrees of quality). The movie is sexy, exciting, and even a bit touching. I needed to see a highly satisfying fantasy film after seeing crap like the new Conan the Barbarian and Priest.

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1 Comment

  1. Great movie


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