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VIFF 2019 Review: The White Snake (白蛇:缘起)

WHITE-SNAKE

The White Snake is the story of a young woman who is destined to be a snake spirit, but is torn between her destiny and the man she loves.

“Your fate may be in stone, but you choose how you live.”

I ended my VIFF 2019 experience by seeing The White Snake at the Playhouse theatre. I wanted to treat myself to something imaginative. It was excellent and breathtaking to watch.

Blanca is a young assassin in white clothes. She is a snake spirit as the ‘White Snake’ and is able to assume human form, but she can’t achieve her goal of immortality. The answer to her goal of immortality lies in a memory of centuries ago, which she cannot recall. Her sister Verta, who is a ‘green snake’ spirit, gives her a magical hairpin that allows her to go back in time to the Tang Dynasty to get her answer.

Back in time, Blanca finds herself waking up in a village. She is surprised to learn she’s in what’s called ‘Snake Catcher Village.’ She comes across a handsome villager names Sean and his dog DuDou. Sean rescued her from a rock by the waterfalls. She falls for Sean, but is unaware that Sean is a snake-hunter. He has been ordered to hunt snakes for the Dark General and the Little General as they believe the snakes hold the key to supreme power.

Soon Sean faces an attack from a snake demon. Blanca stops the demon, only to learn it’s Verta. Sean is surprised and Dudou is convinced she’s a demon. Sean is convinced Blanca is not a demon, despite all he knows about her. Nevertheless Verta reminds Blanca that her true nature will come out when there will be a battle between the snakes and the Dark General’s army. Soon Sean learns who Blanca is as she assumes snake form. Foxy Boss tells Blanca a terrible secret about being a ‘demon:’ gods, people, and even other demons want to kill you.

Will Sean still love Blanca? There will be a battle between the snake catchers and the snake spirits very soon. The Snake General wants Blanca to be extinguished since she wants to defy her snake spirit. Blanca is heartbroken and feels she’s doomed to her demon spirit forever, but Sean sees it in his heart to love Blanca and see her for who she really is. The film ends with a battle in thrilling fashion and in a romantic mood.

This film is a 3D animation big-screen adaptation of the traditional four-chapter Legends Of The White Snake. What I liked best about the film is that the film doesn’t just present a good eye-catching drama, but it also possesses a lot of elements of Chinese culture and Chinese mythology. The imagery of animal spirits within a person is very common in Chinese storytelling and Chinese folklore. I’m not familiar with all of Chinese folklore but I can see a lot of familiar traits of it in the film. Especially the animal spirits that exist in the humans. The film does it in a very entertaining and a very mesmerizing way. The 3D animation doesn’t hurt it at all. In fact it makes it very eye-catching and even brings the audience into the story.

The film appears like a common Chinese fable meant to tell the story of bad and good. However the story is also about rejecting a destiny all for the love of a man. She was a snake spirit; he was a snake hunter. It shows how the heart can win over a person even if they are destined to be something else. The film is mostly a drama and the film succeeds in being a dramatic story. However there are some humorous moments. Most of the humor comes from Dudou, especially after he’s able to speak. It does seem like a must to have some humor in an animated film. Kids will be watching. The film doesn’t seem to get as suggestive as parts of Children Of The Sea does, but there are some suggestive scenes. The story tries more to capture the essence of love between the two. Nevertheless the suggestiveness and the violence in the film leaves me thinking this will get a PG rating.

This is an excellent film done by Light Chaser Animation. Excellent job by directors Amp Wong (credited as Huang Jiakang) and Ji Zhao. Amp has animation credits with doing the Green Lantern series. Zhao has more credits in doing editorial work in film and this is his first direction of animation. Here the directors and the Animation studio deliver a great, colorful eye-catching story that’s a delight to watch and will capture your imagination. The story by first-time scriptwriter DaMao is also excellent. It captures the story and the essence of Chinese mythology well while giving an ideal story for big-screen animation.

The vocal talent is also there. Zhang Zhe did a very good job at making Blanca sound mystical. Yang Tianxuang was also good at making Xu Xuan sound as romantic as he looked. He Zhang was great in adding the humor to the film with DuDou and Zheng Xiaopu was great at bringing out the deviousness of Foxy Boss. The music from Guo Haowei and the songs sung by Sean are also a delight to hear and add to the film’s mystique.

It’s interesting to note that the White Snake cost 80 million Chinese Yuan (roughly $11.4 million US) to make but made 447 million Yuan (about $63.9 million US) in China alone. It will be released in North America starting only with Los Angeles on November 15th and in limited release starting November 29th. English dubs will be in the release as Stephanie Sheh will be the English-language voice for Blanca and Paul Yen will voice Ah Xuan or Sean. Having seen the film in Mandarin with subtitles, I would see the English-language one, but I would try to see which one in more magical. Also those who watch the film when it comes out, I highly recommend you stay to watch the credits. Yes, there is a scene in between the credits featuring Foxy Boss that leaves you convinced there will be a sequel coming out. In fact the Mandarin title of the film means ‘White Snake: The Origin.’

The White Snake is a film with a lot of beauty and intense thrills, but it also has some humor and passion. It succeeds in doing what an animated film should do and make you escape into another world.

And that does it! There wraps up the last of the films I saw at the Vancouver International Film Festival. I will be posting my wrap-up blog very soon.

VIFF 2017 Review: Dragonfly Eyes

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Dragonfly Eyes is a feature drama done through surveillance footage. This is one of the many surveillance images used in the film.

Dragonfly Eyes is a Chinese experimental film that attempts to use surveillance camera footage as a way to tell a story. It’s a unique story in its own.

The story begins in a Buddhist monastery. A young girl named Qing Ting, which means ‘dragonfly,’ has left the monastery in search of a better life. Ke Fan is a young man working a job at a cow farm. One day he catches the attention of Qing Ting. They have conversation, but it’s brief. She knows him and his farm work, but she tries to keep a public distance from him. She’s concerned for her social status about how she’ll look conversating with a ‘farm boy.’

Eventually she admits that she does love him and the two become a couple. However Qing Ting loses her job at a cleaner’s when a pushy rich woman gets more demanding and then demands Qing Ting be fired. Ke Fan swears to Qing Ting he will gets revenge for her. He does just that by driving in front of the rich couple’s car and smashing in their front at a red light. The incident lands Ke Fan a four-year prison term.

Four years have passed and Ke Fan is released from prison. The first thing he does is try to look for Qing Ting. He goes to where she used to live, goes to her former jobs. No sign. Then he learns of an internet celebrity by the name of Xiao Xiao. He sees her and notices that it’s Qing Ting. He tries to conversate with her, but she keeps on denying she’s Qing Ting. Then one day, she gives negative comments about a singing star. That leads to a lot of online flack delivered to her. Xiao Xiao is devastated and it drives her to suicide. Ke Fan learns of this. He feels what he must do is undergo plastic surgery to have Qing Ting’s face. After the operation, he returns to the monastery where she used to serve. It is there she chooses to stay.

This is definitely a film you can call experimental. You can also describe it as ambitious for Xu Bing. One thing we learn is that China is a country full of surveillance cameras. The average person’s face is seen on surveillance cameras 300 times a day. The cameras are all state-run. It is through this that Xu Bing came up with the idea to do a fictional story through use of surveillance. I tried to be as observant as I could with the film. I was trying to spot out if Xu Bing was using the same actors to play Ke Fan and Qing Ting. One thing about the film is that the parts are voiced over by Lui Yongfang for Qing Ting and Su Shangqing for Ke Fan.

I do give Xu Bing kudos for trying to make a film of this caliber and this experimental. However I have to say that it is flawed. The biggest thing is a story that appeared to make sense from time to time, but ended in a bizarre fashion. How does one try to keep the spirit of a deceased person alive by undergoing plastic surgery to look like them? The scene where Ke Fan joins the monastery made a little more sense as it can be seen as a way to keep Qing Ting’s spirit alive. However the plastic surgery really has me wondering.

I can understand that Xu Bing is trying to make more than one statement to make in this film. I think through the character of Qing Ting, he trying to make a statement of one being consumed by materialism. We have a young girl who leaves the monastery and then gets consumed in the modern world of materialism, and then she commits suicide. Also I feel with this film using surveillance camera footage, I think he’s also trying to make a statement about the chaos of this world we live in. It’s noted when the film goes from footage used as part of the drama shifting to general surveillance footage consisting of car crashes, people on the go, a disaster, a woman drowning in a pond, and even business footage. Whatever statements Xu is trying to make, it doesn’t come across smoothly and it comes across rather confusing. I will acknowledge Xu’s Dragonfly Eyes as a brave first-attempt at a ‘surveillance-drama’ and anticipate better in the years to come.

Dragonfly Eyes is an ambition attempt at creating a live-action film through surveillance footage, but it comes off as messy and confusing.