Bride with White Hair, TheReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 04/05/20 17:15:28
Ronny Yu's "The Bride with White Hair" may not quite be a masterpiece, but it's an essential Hong Kong movie, elevating the kung fu horror genre to something near mythic. Like the great myths, it's grandiose in every way possible, sexy and romantic on the one side and full of gory fantasy melodrama on the other, not realistic in any way but also never precious or too clever for its own good.At the top of Mount Shin Fong, a man guards a magic flower with healing abilities that only blooms every twenty years. He is Cho Yi-Hang (Leslie Cheung Kwok-Wing), trained in the martial arts since he was a child. Though the presumed heir to Wu Tang Clan master Tzu Yang (Bao Fang) - over the objections of master Pai Yun (Law Lok-Lam), who would see his daughter Ho Lu-Hua (Yammie Lam Kit-Ying) next in line - he never had the ambitions to lead it, preferring instead to use his prowess to help the oppressed. Among those doing the oppressing are a pair of twins named Chi Wu-Shuang (Francis Ng Chun-Yu & Elaine Lui Siu-Ling), leaders of a death cult who have raised a "wolf girl" (Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia) into a living weapon. She and Yi-Hang fall in love, but can it survive when their masters are on a collision course?
Of course not - Yi-Hang wouldn't wind up hanging out on the top of a frozen mountain in the first scene if everything was going to turn out fine - but Yu and his team don't spend a lot of time wallowing how tragic and doomed they are. There's intrigue enough to keep everyone busy and the occasional detour that doesn't really go anywhere but also doesn't waste time. Yu and his co-writers, including editor David Wu Dai-Wai, do a good job of keeping Yi-Hang and the wolf girl at the center while not diminishing the other things of consequence - one part of the story never seems to be waiting on another, and the battles of armies and passions of individuals are tied tightly together.
A charismatic performance by Leslie Cheung at the center is responsible for a great deal of that; Yi-Hang can come across as flip or insouciant but reveals depth in the way he hesitates when forced to take something seriously. He's a good contrast to the hyper-masculine world of martial arts without ever seeming weak or uncertain, and sexy as heck with his emotions all over his face and clear ease with his physicality. Lin's performance initially comes off as more hardened - Yi-Hang may have been raised by demanding martial-arts masters, but she clearly knows she's part of something awful - but she makes everything Lien feels after meeting Yi-Hang more potent, whether joy or defiance or rage.
And then there's Francis Ng and Elaine Lui, chewing every bit of scenery they can find as the cult leaders, though Yu is more apt to feed them unusual blocking than actual scenery. Like a lot of Hong Kong horror, The Bride with White Hair often will eschew the backdrops, letting a backdrop flooded with a single color set the mood for a world that does little to hide how it exists on a soundstage, but Yu uses this to feel heightened, and never more so than when Ng and Lui are dashing about the stage, their strange back-to-back staging unnatural enough to unnerve but energetic, as Yu finds ways to let one or the other have the entire focus or heighten how much they have seemingly grown to loathe each other as they snipe.
It's no wonder they cause so much bloodshed, with Yu and action director Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung keeping everything fast-moving, going for clear and exaggerated violence rather than pretty choreography. The mayhem and grotesquerie builds so that by the time the final battle comes, Yu can throw a lot of severed heads, bisections, and spurting blood vessels at the audience, and more or less everyone can get run through and have it feel like it's just a way to emphasize betrayal as opposed to an almost-certainly fatal injury.Maybe by that point it's a little bit much for those who mostly want grand, doomed fantasy romance. It's the sort of pure pulp that other filmmakers would try to transcend, but Ronny Yu embraces it to create a bloody, uncompromised bit of entertainment that sprawls across genre but never seems out of place
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