WHITE SNAKE (99 NR)
A love story between a snake spirit and a snake hunter.
Directors: Amp Wong (as Jiakang Huang), Ji Zhao
Stars: Zhe Zhang, Tianxiang Yang, Xiaoxi Tang
Matinee Screenings Dubbed in English; Evening Screenings Subtitled in English
White Snake is one of the most beautiful animated features I’ve ever seen. Warner Bros. and Beijing’s Light Chaser Animation teamed up for this Chinese film, which will be released by GKIDS in North America later this year. In many respects, it looks and plays exactly like any mainstream Hollywood animated movie, the How to Train Your Dragon series in particular. Cultural elements in the story are what sets it apart, though. White Snake screened at the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival.
The story focuses on Blanca, a young woman left with amnesia following a failed assassination attempt on the General, a snake-like entity searching for a way to achieve immortality. Her weapon of choice is a magical jade hairpin given to her by sister Verta. Blanca is found by Xuan, a snake catcher with a canine sidekick named Dodou. They start to fall in love while following clues that might help her regain her memory. Multiple perils are faced along the way, as a number of entities desperately want to find them, including Verta. Once all the pieces come together, Blanca and Xuan realize that their romance is in jeopardy, as are their respective villages.
The White Snake is a popular Chinese legend that has been around for a thousand years. It entails a snake spirit who can transform into a beautiful human woman, as well as a green snake who can do likewise. In this version of the tale, Blanca is the White Snake and Verta the green. Both have magical powers that make use of serpentine abilities. This allows for some magnificent action sequences, especially during the big finale. The manner in which these scenes are visualized is stunning. Detailed animation provides a sense of grandness that befits the enduring nature of the legend. All of it takes place against lush-looking backgrounds. One of the most powerful images finds a field of dandelions being stirred up, Blanca in snake form standing amid all their floating fragments.
Plenty of interesting supporting characters enter the story at various points. Blanca and Xuan make a stop at a business that manufactures supernatural tools. It’s run by a creature with a human face on one side of her head and a fox face on the other. She twists her neck, Linda Blair in The Exorcist-style, depending on her mood. Dudou is another memorable figure. At first, he seems like your average cute-and-fuzzy animated movie sidekick until he’s hit by a spell that allows him to speak. Hilariously, this freaks him out. Plenty of snakes are here, as well.
White Snake offers thrills with its action scenes, moments of humor (often courtesy of Dudou), a sweet romance, an engaging retelling of the titular legend, and breathtaking animation. A few bits of violence resulting in death and one or two suggestions of sensuality make it appropriate for older kids and adults, all of whom are likely to be captivated by this enchanting film.