Friday, October 19, 2007

The Bride with White Hair (1993, Hong Kong)

For those who care, the Cantonese title is Bai fa mo ru zhuan. Like most Hong Kong films, however, it can be found or rented under a multitude of titles, the most common one being The Bride with White Hair. Based on a Chinese novel by the world famous Yusheng Liang, the film is, on the simplest level, a period fantasy love story. Anyone who likes such Hong Kong classics as A Chinese Ghost Story (1987), A Chinese Ghost Story Part II (1990) (both which starred Leslie Cheung) or (the non-supernatural) Peking Opera Blues (1990) (which featured Brigitte Lin) will enjoy The Bride with White Hair. Actually, the names involved in The Bride with White Hair all stand for good product in general: Director Ronny Yu has made dozens of kick & chop ballets as well as the hilarious Bride of Chucky (1998), many with the help of his regular script collaborator David Wu; cinematographer Peter Pau has worked with most of Hong Kong's most visually exciting directors; Lin was a big star up until she retired to become a mommy and Leslie Cheung had actually gained some international respectability due to such projects as Chinese Ghost Story I and II, Farewell My Concubine (1990) and Happy (1997) before he decided to end it all with a high dive from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on April 1st, 2003.
For all intents and purposes, the film tells the tragic story of an all-around loser. Zhuo Yi-Hang (Leslie Cheung) is first seen brooding in misery due to all that he has lost—clan, love, happiness. He sits guarding a magic flower that can revive the dead, a flower he hopes to one day use on the woman he has lost. Yu starts the film off with a small bang by allowing Yi-Hang to decimate a group of warriors in less than a minute before the real story gets told in flashback, starting with Yi-Hang's childhood. An excellent if irresponsible child student of the martial arts and sword, he is saved from an untimely death by the intervention of a mysterious flute playing girl. This scene is followed by a lengthy, somewhat slow but playful section introducing all the important characters and filling the viewer in on all the important background information. Yi-Hang grows to be the popular if somewhat irresponsible heir to the Wu-Tang clan, which is at war with Ji Wushuang (Francis Ng and Elaine Lui) a pair of evil separate-sex Siamese twins out for revenge for being banished so many years before. The girl with the flute has grown to become Lian Nichang (Brigitte Lin) the unstoppable killer for the twins, and during a big slaughter, she and Yi-Hang meet again and fall in love in a big way. Disillusioned by war and his compatriots—especially by Ho Lu Hua (Kit Ying Lam), his semi-girlfriend and only equal in the mastery of fighting—Yi-Hang would like nothing more than to leave with his new love, whom he swears never to disbelieve. While she is off buying her freedom from the twins (with her body, amongst other degradations), Yi-Hang is found by his clan and convinced by them that Lian has merely fooled him so as to kill his master and destroy the clan. When the battered Lian shows up to leave with her love, he attacks instead, the breaking of his oath and his disbelief resulting in her "suicide" and conversion into a demon with killer white hair (similar to the killer tongue in A Chines Ghost Story). By the film's end, she may have saved his life and he may have saved hers, but everyone else is dead. She leaves a broken man behind, an all-around loser with nothing to live for but the faint hope that one day she might come back....
Which she seemingly does in the sequel The Bride with White Hair II, made the very same year. That film, however, holds a less respectable reputation than the first film.
The Bride with White Hair
is a triumph of style and story, an often breathtaking visual pleasure interspersed with some scenes of gore and blood, its excellent action scenes equalled by some truly boring narrative and humorous sections. A tad low budget looking at times, it is filmed with a lot of fog and strobe lights in the background, has a wonderfully mystical aura and a tragically romantic love story. True it drags sometimes, but overflows with creativity, energy, thrills and style; it never bores but often surprises. This is the perfect film for true fans of Hong Kong Bullet Ballets to show their Ang Lee worshipping significant others.

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