Thursday, July 4, 2019

Nate Hood ponders WHITE SNAKE (2019) in 400 words NYAFF 2019

When Gary Wang, founder of Chinese video sharing website, started Light Chaser Animation Studios his mission was simple: create Pixar-quality animation for a fraction of the budget, explaining in a 2015 interview “we won’t spend $100 million on a film but we also want to produce world-class work.” Their latest release White Snake sees the company move one step closer towards their goal. It’s an ambitious prequel to the traditional Chinese folktale Legend of the White Snake where two snakes—the older White Snake and her younger sister Green Snake—gain human forms after hundreds of years of meditation, fall in love with humans, and fight an evil turtle-turned-Buddhist monk.

Set long before the folktale, the film sees the two snakes, renamed in the English version Blanca and Verta, fight as soldiers in a war between demons and humans, the latter led by a terrifying general armed with Taoist magic. Early on Blanca is injured during a fight and loses her memory of her past, her sister, and her original snake form. While wondering through the countryside she meets and falls in love with Ah Xuan, a herb gatherer from a rural village who’s destined to be reincarnated in a following life as the man she’ll one day marry. From there the film weaves a tale of duty and destiny, with Blanca torn between her love for Ah Xuan and her duty to her sister and fellow demons.

Yet one can never quite shake the sense that we’re watching a glorified tech demo: the backgrounds, creature design, and magical effects all look superb and the wuxia-inspired action sequences are animated as smoothly as the finest hand-drawn sakuga, but whenever the pace slows down and we watch the characters walk, talk, and interact like normal people they come off like plasticine dolls. Additionally the film demonstrates an unusually overt sexuality considering it predominately looks and feels like a Disney movie complete with talking animal sidekick: there’s nude bathing, a sex scene, and a prominent fox demon character whose human form is a barely pubescent teenager wearing a short-skirt negligee four sizes too small. But its greatest shortcoming is the one plaguing all prequels—the need to not tell a good story so much as to set the stage for another one. Hopefully they’ll make the sequel, the White Snake folktale proper, next.

Rating: 5/10

WHITE SNAKE plays Sunday at the New York Asian Film Festival.
It will play Fantasia in Montreal July 27th. 
It has also been picked up for US release by G-Kids Films

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