Green Snake (Hong Kong - 1994)
Starring: Maggie Cheung, Joey Wong, Chiu Cheuk
Director: Tsui Hark
Plot: Two immortal snake-women seeking to explore the pleasures of the human world seduce a young scholar but are pursued by a zealous, powerful Buddhist monk who strives to maintain the world order.
Review: Based on a classic fantasy tale of Chinese literature and adapted as part comedy, part fantasy, and part social commentary,
Green Snake definitely impresses. For anyone other than director Tsui Hark
Blues, Time and
Tide), this would have been an ambitious undertaking. However, he has never been one to shirk away from difficulty and here he surprises with a work that is visually opulent for such a low-budget production, and whose unbridled inventiveness bellies grander productions. Sure, the special effects are, for the most part, quite poor (if not downright cheesy) to Western eyes, but it is so
beautifully shot and excessively over-produced, and shows off Tsui Hark's terrific style and imagination to such great effect, that one can dismiss these minor failings. Hark also never misses an opportunity to comment on the political
turmoil of Hong Kong, and some may see an anecdotal take on the then-looming problems of Chinese repatriation. There is also a definite moral tale in the narrative, lashing out at religious hypocrisy and social conformity. But these are only part of its charms for there's something for everyone here: romanticism and melodrama, wit and
humor, fantasy and magical combat, all given careful attention and, in the typical mainstream Hong Kong way, all given the wildly over-the-top treatment that we've come to expect. None of this would have been half as good, however, without the participation of its two female stars. Both show a willingness to get into their parts with abandon and, though theatrical to the extreme, help us get into the characters. To be fair, for those uninitiated the film may appear to be too bizarre, too disjointed to make much sense, and it's true it does need a certain attention and acceptance on the part of the audience to be enjoyed. It may not be a classic, but for those willing to go the distance, this is the director's Art-House film, and it's a delightfully interesting experience.