The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom

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“Pretty, vacant.”

Based on the same novel which previously inspired The Bride With White Hair, this is a lovely-looking, but entirely empty production. The hero is Zhuo Yihang  (Huang), one of the top members of a martial-arts clan, who is instructed to deliver some red pills to the reigning emperor. When the monarch keels over shortly thereafter, Zhuo gets the blame. However, he’s able to team up with Jade (Fan) and her sister Coral (Shera Lee), who run a rebel outpost buried deep in the heart of the titular mountain, forming an utterly impregnable fortress. Zhuo and Jade, naturally, fall in love – at least, until he gets word that she was responsible for the murder of his grandfather, a local governor. However, we already know she’s innocent of that crime too, part of the myriad of political shenanigans which are swirling around our love-struck couple.

whitehairedIt’s clear the aim here is some kind of sweeping epic. Unfortunately, the emotion more likely to be generated is “confused apathy.” Perhaps it makes more sense if you’re intimately informed on 17th-century Chinese politics. That’s unlikely to be the case for many Western eyes, although there’s no denying the lush nature of the visuals to be found here. Having Tsui Hark on board as a consultant has likely helped that aspect, because the film looks absolutely gorgeous. It’s a large box of gooey, top-shelf chocolate for the eyeballs. The problem is, it also has about as much nutritional content for the heart. Who are these people? Why should we care? Cheung appears to have forgotten this, very basic, aspect of storytelling, and what’s left is as about as soulless as any entry in the Transformers franchise.

Fan looks the part, make no mistake, and there are occasional moments, such as her hair changing shade [you’ll spend the first half wondering who the heck the titular witch is, since Jade’s hair is pitch-black], where the visual effects are used for the advancement of the story, not just for whizz-bang effect. It’s the exception instead of the rule, and before long, you’ll be back to wondering who half these people are, and why they are so upset with each other. This climaxes with the film ending in a way that is not so much satisfying, as entirely baffling. As it does so, a song from the earlier Bride With White Hair is played. Presumably, the aim was as a nod to the predecessor; the effect is actually to remind you of the ways in which the earlier film was superior.

One of the major McGuffins here is a magic “Scroll of Apathy,” giving its master incredible powers, albeit at terrible cost. That’s ironically appropriate, since most viewers will also be feeling pretty damn apathetic by the time the credits roll. Guess it proves the scroll worked. I await the arrival of my powers. Any day now, I’m sure.

Dir: Jacob Cheung
Star: Fan Bingbing, Huang Xiaoming, Vincent Zhao, Wang Xuebing

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