Today I watched Jacob Cheung Chi-Leung’s The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom (2014)
While I tend to refer to wuxia in the past tense, as a genre prevalent in the 70’s and early 80’s, it is alive and well in today’s Chinese film industry. Today’s Wuxia genre is quite diverse, ranging from high fantasy to political drama to epic romance. This film tries to be all of these things a once but inevitably collapses under its own over complicated narrative. The film follows Yihang, a senior member of the Wudang martial arts temple who is set up as a patsy for the murder of the emperor, one thing leads to another and he falls in love with a rebel leader known as the Jade Rakshasa and later has to work with the same people who set him up in a convoluted story that would be very difficult for me to summarize without going through moment by moment.
This convoluted narrative completely hamstrings the movie, it is mercilessly confusing. The film could have benefited from being an hour or so longer as some plot lines are woefully underdeveloped, some seem to jump forward without transitional logic, and the characters don’t get nearly enough time to develop themselves. With the proper plot development this film could have been a very solid fusion of romantic fantasy and political espionage, plus all the Kung Fu of course. Without development moments meant to be dramatic become flat and dull or even worse, confusing.
It is all a shame because otherwise the film has a lot to offer, especially in the art design and acting departments. The film is obviously much cheaper than a Hollywood film but it has a sense of grandeur modern American films seem to lack. China has for quite some time been a haven for incredible costuming and this film stands as a testament to that. Fan Bingbing plays the titular white haired witch who is the Jade Rakshasa and her performance is the best part of the film, she can switch between driven and impassioned leadership to demure to cold blooded killer while still remaining a consistent character.
There is a good movie buried in this one, but it needed more time (and subsequently more money) o realize that potential. The great cast is squandered without enough breathing room to let them really do their work and the film seems to skip some moments of transition both in plot and character development. While I can deal with most of the film’s special effects it ends on one of the worst, most mood breaking ones I have ever seen, its amazingly funny in what is supposed to be a dramatic moment, I left this film laughing when the makers of it obviously wanted me to be crying. 2/5