Magnolia Pictures // 2011 // 93 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // April 23rd, 2013
Sadly, not a rockumentary about the hair metal band.
In the woods of Chinese Magicland, two comely female snake demons slither all over each other in all manner of semi-erotic reptilian ways. From their perch, they see some mortal herb-gatherers. One of the sisters decides to play a prank and spooks one of the gatherers, laughing as he plummets into the nearby lake. The White Snake sister dives in to resuscitate him and during some passionate mouth-to-mouth the human and the demon fall madly in love with each other. This proves troublesome, especially to Abbot Fahai (Jet Li, Kiss of the Dragon) a renowned demon hunter who has little patience for horny demon lovers.
Meanwhile, a fearsome bat-demon menaces the countryside, forcing Fahai and his disciples to call upon the power of the Buddha and unleash an impressive flurry of CGI to bring peace to the region. And maybe do a little bit of flying around back and forth.
If we're not going to get a Lethal Weapon 5 featuring Jet Li coming back to life to beat up more dudes, I guess having Jet Li star in a movie where he punches a CGI bat in the face while he falls into lava will have to suffice. About as grounded in reality as (insert Lindsay Lohan legal joke here), The Sorcerer and the White Snake blasts out Asian kung fu fantasy at an astonishing rate. I don't think I've seen this much CGI since James Cameron was torturing me with his interstellar social commentary.
Actually, the first thing that popped to mind while watching this was The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. The big centerpiece fight between Jet Li's bad-ass wizard and the bat-demon is reminiscent of the Gandalf/Balrog battle, right down to the point-of-view shots, as the two computer-generated characters pummel each other while plummeting into a volcanic maw. I didn't think I'd ever see Jet Li in this kind of movie, but he's looking like he's having fun, so who am I to argue?
The story behind The Sorcerer and the White Snake is a mess of nonsense, the most interesting plot strand involving the herb-picker's illicit love affair with the demon snake lady. A side story featuring Abbot Fahai's hapless underling slowly turning into a hideous man-bat elicits a few awkward chuckles, but if there's an emotional core, it's the star-crossed inter-species lovers.
I'm not sure that will be enough to sustain the interest of those looking for more than eye candy. If you're just looking for a visual 1080p feast, the film delivers an uninterrupted flow of imagination and weirdness. The opening shot of the two snake sisters floating through the air caressing each other's scales sets the table for the lunacy to come, and it only gets more out there as the film creeps in.
The Blu-ray pushes out the visuals nicely, with a 2:35:1 HD transfer rendering the on-screen fantasia with verve. Lots of colors and lots of bounce to each frame, despite the usual caveat that a boosted resolution will betray dodgy CGI (and there are moments here). A strong DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix and a series of behind the scene featurettes looking at Jet Li's fighting, the visual effects, and the beasts round out Magnolia's The Sorcerer and the White Snake (Blu-ray).
Come for the runaway visual effects and Jet Li, stay for the...well, that stuff too.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Mandarin)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13