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Venice 2011. Ching Siu-Tung’s “The Sorcerer and the White Snake”

For some, a deluge of CGI drowns Tony Ching’s latest; others have simply kicked back and enjoyed the ride.

"An overzealous application of CGI is the figurative boa constrictor squeezing the life out of The Sorcerer and the White Snake, a silly, derivative supernatural-action extravaganza that would have been better at a fraction of its f/x budget," argues Justin Chang in Variety. "Overblown saga of shape-shifting demons, butt-kicking clerics and the perils of interspecies romance occasionally dazzles but finally frazzles with its relentless visual assault, embedding Jet Li and his capable castmates in one screensaver-ready fantasy backdrop after another."

"The story of a woman demon who falls in love with a mortal will ring bells for Westerners as a charming variant on Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid tale," suggests Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter, "though here the scaly mermaid is a huge, beautiful snake. With non-stop action to attract the lads, the tale is laced with enough overblown romanticism for ten chick flicks, yet chaste enough for children."

"The much-varied Chinese legend of the female White Snake, her sisterly companion Green Snake and the Buddhist monk who seeks to prevent them becoming romantically involved with humans gets a full-scale, 21st-century CGI workout," writes Derek Elley for Film Biz Asia. "Funded by Mainland sources but largely put together by Hong Kongers, it's a different kettle of fish from previous versions, with none of the staginess of Shaw Bros' operatic Madame White Snake (1962) nor the sheer sensuousness of Tsui Hark's much later Green Snake (1993), with Maggie Cheung and Joey Wang. Like most of action maestro Tony Ching's movies (A Chinese Ghost Story (1987), An Empress and the Warriors (2008)), it's an uncomplicated mixture of stunts, setpieces and local elements aimed directly at an Asian audience, with no special depth to the characters or their emotions and a plot that's simply there to keep the action coming."

"Unfortunately, the film's tonally messy, garish — with every frame crammed with fourth-rate visual effects — and perhaps most crucially for a film in this genre, doesn't have a single compelling action sequence." Oliver Lyttelton at the Playlist: "It's not that money hasn't been spent here; there's some truly spectacular production design, handsome costumes (from Wong Kar-Wai collaborator William Chang), and a cast of hundreds. But Ching's approach here seems influenced more by recent Hollywood blockbusters than classics of the genre. The blue screen approach he takes for much of the film can only make one think of Zack Snyder, particular with plentiful speed ramping and fast-cutting, rather than simply letting the fights play out."

But Screen's Mark Adams has had a pretty good time: "Breathtaking, beautiful and engagingly bonkers, this super-sleek Chinese fantasy romp is brimming with strange and oddly wonderful moments, and despite its inability to make much sense it is a real guilty pleasure of a film…. This is a film packed with playful female/snake demons, martial arts monks, sexy blood-hungry monsters, seductive female/fox demons and — in a deeply odd and amusing moment — a threesome of a talking mouse, turtle and white rabbit. Add to the pot a dash of demon-human romance and Jet Li at his majestic martial arts best (a bit older, but still so dynamic) and you have a fantasy adventure that flies close to being a family flick (what with all the furry animals) if it wasn’t for the scary vampire demons and massive, snarling, snakes."

The AP's Colleen Barry has a few notes from the press conference.


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