I was looking up information on Bram Stoker’s Lair of the White Worm, as one does, and came across the pronouncement that White Snake Changes Chinese Animation Forever or something of that sort. And I thought, hey, I like Chinese animation (as far as I know), I wonder what the hell that means? But rather than read an article about it, I found that it was playing in South Chinatown (not to be confused with the fake Chinatown in downtown L.A. or the real ones in Alhambra or Orange) and so The Boy and I jetted off to see this story of a man who falls in love with the snake demon who may or may not have been sent to kill him and his whole family.
The revolutionary aspect seems to be that it’s…sexual. Not graphic or gross, but the two lead characters fall in love and have sex. And there’s a demonic saleslady who has rather carnal overtones as well.
The story is a little hard to follow at first, because it’s opened with two snake-demon sisters talking about stuff we don’t know, and it actually doesn’t all come together until the very end—but I was very impressed by how the end so successfully clarified the beginning and aligned everything.
The story is that Blanca, a snake-demon is on a mission to kill an evil tyrant who’s been making all his villagers capture and kill snakes for his personal edification. (Magic. Go with it.) But she fails and in the subsequent battle she is nearly killed. She’s thrown from the boat (yeah, they’re on a boat, I can’t put all this stuff into one sentence!) into a river and ends up washing up on the rocks of one of these snake-killing villages where she’s rescued by a handsome young snake hunter.
So, we got your standard other-worldly love story here, star-crossed lovers if there ever were a pair. But it’s done expertly here, with a necessarily light touch on the character interplay. For example, when your girlfriend is a super-powered otherworldly demon, you might have trouble relating to her in the traditional masculine ways. When she’s fighting a sorcerer, you’re likely to not have a lot to contribute as far as trading magical blows goes. But if you’re alert and on your toes, you can pitch in at critical times and save the day.
There was an interesting aspect, too, to the whole Demon-Snake world vs. Human Emperor dynamic was surprising. It came off, to me, like a battle between Communism and Fascism (as has been featured in so many movies) and the message seems to be “both of these suck hard”. I mean, I’m the last guy to try to figure out the hidden messages in Chinese films—although a lot of people feel very strongly about doing just that—but while the evil emperor seemed to be more fascistic, allowing a sort of shadow of trade to go on as long as it ultimately enriched him, and the snake goddess (not our heroine, but our heroine’s boss, essentially) seemed more communist, channeling everyone’s energy to a common good (which of course was ultimately her personally and individually), they mostly both end up killing a lot of other people (whether their own or the enemy’s).
Didn’t see it coming. Didn’t see the ending coming either. You don’t really know until the last possible second whether or not our heroes survive their adventures. And it’s the sort of ending that only works in the Far East. So that was cool.
It doesn’t seem that revolutionary to me but it was a solid flick. Oh, from a technological standpoint (in case that’s the thing that’s supposed to revolutionary), it’s not up to A-list American stuff but it’s very cleverly done to make budgetary restrictions less apparent. Wherever the focus was was done up with top-notch animation, and the background stuff was neglected so you might not (if you’re not super-attentive to these things as we are) even notice.
We were glad we saw it.