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Green Snake

Joey Wong and Maggie Cheung are the sister snakes in Green Snake
Chinese: 青蛇  
Year: 1993
Director: Tsui Hark
Producer: Tsui Hark
Writer: Tsui Hark, Lillian Lee
Action: Yuen Bun
Cast: Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk, Joey Wong Cho-Yin, Zhao Wen-Zhou (Chiu Man-Cheuk), Wu Xing-Guo, Lau Kong
The Skinny: A movie that's probably as reviled as it is beloved. Tsui Hark's over-the-top romantic fantasy/political allegory is a potentially alienating experience, but it's also an intensely interesting and even beautiful ride.
by Kozo:

Tsui Hark puts himself into “great director” mode to retell the ancient Chinese story of the Green Snake (Maggie Cheung) and sister White Snake (Joey Wong). The two snakes are immortal creatures who manage to attain human form after hundreds of years of practicing their sorcery. However, this disrupts the natural order, meaning many Buddhist boosters are soon after the two sisters.

Meanwhile, the two snakes contend themselves with human lives. The elder, more mature White Snake marries a scholar (Wu Xing-Guo), but the younger Green Snake finds herself puzzled by this notion of being human. While attractive to her, she still relishes her snake form, and chooses to use it occasionally. 

Things get complicated when all the monks start showing up to take down our snake heroines. Chief among these is Fa-Hoi (Zhao Wen-Zhou), a die-hard monk who finds himself torn between earthly desires and the spiritual pull of his religion. He initially lets the snakes have their way since they aren't really harming anyone. However, circumstances won't allow the snakes to get on with their lives. Fate, love, sex, hate, religion and desire all play a role in eventually bringing down the world that the two snakes attempt to build. And, in trying to end their unnatural existences, Fa-Hoi reveals the hypocrisy at the heart of his strict Buddhist life. 

Tsui Hark’s direction is a lurid mishmash of comedy, slow-motion eroticism, and obvious political allegory (meaning it's typical Tsui). The variety of themes let loose in this overdone art-house fantasy flick could fill a small book. The snakes are portrayed as beings who simply want to live their chosen lives in the human world, but are denied and persecuted by strict societal mores and overzealous individuals enforcing the "natural order." The main enforcer of these rules is Fa-Hoi, who's also revealed as given towards desire, anger and even hypocrisy. Since what the snakes want is love, family and hope, Fa-Hoi and his Buddhist Gestapo are denying the very humanity they are supposedly trying to uphold.

Made in 1993, this movie allowed Tsui Hark plenty of time to ruminate on what would happen post-1997. The political allegory is obvious when you look closely (Fa-Hoi’s large red surplice can mean only one thing: China). In that respect, the film has debatable merit. Also in question is the film's success at being a simple cheesy fantasy. The large rubber snakes and poor special effects don't help matters, as they relegate the film to a low-budget fantasy spectacle. That, added to Tsui's usual over-the-top direction and the bizarre histrionics, could induce snickering in more than a few audience members.

Still, there are more moments of sheer beauty in this overdone art-house wuxia than in any other Hong Kong film in recent memory. Tsui Hark isn't a great director because he makes cohesive films - he's a great director because his films manage to elicit the full gamut of emotions in ninety minutes or less. His pet political themes could easily be ignored, and the plight of the snakes would still register as one of simple humanity. Bringing weight to the proceedings are Joey Wong and Maggie Cheung, who turn in fine, lovely performances. The art direction, astounding musical score, and beautiful costume designs all add to the spectacle. Green Snake may not be a great film, but it's most definitely great cinema. (Kozo 1995/1999)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Mei Ah Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
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