White Snake Blu-ray Review
Although still a little uneven, Chinese computer animation is fast becoming one of the best alternatives to Hollywood’s supremacy, as the amazing Ne Zha recently demonstrated. While not reaching the heights of its illustrious predecessor, White Snake can clearly be regarded as another impressive achievement for the Middle Kingdom.
It tells the story of a young woman named Blanca who falls into danger and is saved by a snake catcher who goes by the name of Xuan. However, she has lost her memory and Xuan accompanies her on a journey help her remember and uncover her identity, while slowly falling for each other along the way. As the truth about her past comes to light they start to realise there are darker forces vying for power, with the fate of the world depending on them both.
White Snake is directors Amp Wong and Ji Zhao’s first film, Amp having worked only as an animator on Green Lantern: The Animated Series and Ji as editor on other Chinese animations such as Xiao men shen and assistant editor on The Grandmaster, Wu Xia, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Karate Kid. Audiences familiar with Chinese cinema will have instantly recognised the famous Legend of the White Snake which, in addition to a number of operas and books, inspired Tsui Hark (Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings) for his magnificent Green Snake in 1993 and Ching Siu-tung (A Chinese Ghost Story) for his more recent The Sorcerer and the White Snake. The legend has had several interpretations, and it is not a surprise that White Snake offers yet again a new take on the great folktale, even if the script remains relatively unsurprising with its big-hearted hero and fearsome heroines dreaming of love and freedom. No real big surprises are found here.
However, one of the pleasant surprises of the film is that it remains very true to its Chinese roots by not making concessions to appeal to a Western audience. In particular White Snake doesn’t shy away from preserving its own culture and figures, for instance setting the context of the story around reincarnation and using traditional characters such as snake men and women, fox women and buddhas. At the same time, White Snake offers a familiar yet accessible universe, using conventions that have already proved successful in both live action Chinese films and American animations, and the gorgeous visual beauty of legendary China.
Other enriching aspects of the film are the complex treatment given to female characters and the clarity of the stakes, far from the usual mechanism seen in these type of animations (this was already the case, even in even more elaborate manner in Ne Zha actually). The film even allows itself a surprising sexual subtext, first of all, in Blanca's relationship with Verta (the later appearing a few times more as a lover than a sister to the former), and with the surprising character of Fox, the owner of the Jade Atelier, whose outfit very often threatens to completely fall off.
While White Snake could have been even more convincing with a more complex male character, reinforcing his timelessly poignant love story with Verta, it remains another impressive achievement for China in the realm of CGI and it is definitely a must see.
White Snake was released on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK by Dazzler in a very frustrating presentation.
Despite benefiting from a beautiful 1080p transfer the film is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, in opposition with the original 2.39:1, depriving the film of the cinematographic qualities of this format. On the other hand, the disc features an incredible variety of colours and textures. Furthermore, the level of detail is extremely impressive and will undoubtedly leave viewers with strong visual images long after removing the disc from the player.
On the sound side, the Blu-ray features two very efficient 2.0 Stereo and 5.1 Surround English audio tracks and offers optional English subtitles. However, I was extremely annoyed by the editor’s choice to leave out the Mandarin audio track despite it being available on the Shout Factory disc released earlier this year. Personally, a massive disappointment which prevented fully appreciate this Chinese legend. The only bonus on the disc is the international trailer for the film, in English.
White Snake is available now to buy on Blu-ray.