THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE
THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE
A Chinese legend comes to life thanks to director Ching Siu-tung
By Marybel Gervais
(Translated by Adam Abouaccar)
Chinese folklore is immeasurably rich. Tales of fantastic beasts, cruel demons and reckless heroes are in no short supply. Among them, we find the popular legend of the white snake (aka Madame White Snake); Ching Siu-tung (A Chinese Ghost Story I-III) has found in this tale the vital energy needed to craft his new film The Sorcerer and the White Snake, a fantastic drama with hints of romance coupled with unexpected heroism and stunning martial arts. Actors playing in the film include Jet Li as Fahai the monk, Shengyi Huang as White Snake and Raymond Lam as the herbalist Xu Xian. Their performances breathe new life into the tale of the white snake, allowing for it to be properly retold.
Like many other legends, this story was initially spread by oral tradition. The first writings on the white snake date back to the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) in Feng Menglong’s The White Maiden Locked for Eternity in the Lefing Pagoda. Given its source, there are numerous variations on this story. The following is its most common form: the white snake and her sister the green snake take the form of two beautiful women. The white snake pretends to be a rich heiress while the green snake plays her servant. Under this assumed identity, the white snake and a renowned herbalist fall madly in love and marry. The true form of the herbalist’s bride will be revealed to him by a monk. Under his influence, the herbalist will help the monk to trap the demonic white snake under a pagoda to prevent it from bringing any harm to the human race.
Associated with Buddhism, the legend has traveled with the religion, finding its way to Korea and Japan, among other places. A Japanese cartoon called The White Snake (Taiji Yabushita, 1958) was also created by the studio Toei Animation (it is the first animated Japanese film to be in color). Like most folk tales, the story has been adapted and into several different branches of art. Engravings, drawings and paintings depicting various passages from the story are very common. Many operas have presented it, including the Peking opera known for its blend of singing, comedy, acrobatics, music and colourful costumes. Moreover, the story has been adapted into musicals and plays. In the 70s, a troupe of modern dancers from the Cloud Gate Dance Theater presented an interpretation of Madame White Snake. Many television series have also found inspiration in the legend. Cinema certainly has its share of adaptations as well, including the South Korean film Baeksa buin (Shin Sang-ok, 1960).
As for the film by Ching Siu-tung, The Sorcerer and the White Snake presented at Fantasia this year remains faithful to the source material but also throws in several CGI-infused action sequences. Jet Li delivers a spectacular martial arts performance that leaves the audience breathless. Thanks to the modern art that is CGI-aided cinema, we are able to tell the oldest of stories and communicate with the world in a language that is boundless in its possibilities.
THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE will have its Canadian premiere August 5th at 12:50 and will play again August 7th at 4:00pm. Both screenings will take place in the Concordia Hall Theater. More information on the film HERE.