Monday, 20 October 2014

LFF REVIEW - THE WHITE HAIRED WITCH OF LUNAR KINGDOM (JACOB CHEUNG)


Jacob Cheung employs tools of simplicity and serenity to hysterical effect in The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom, an overblown and over-complicated martial arts picture that mistakes business for energy and melodrama for emotional sincerity. It's easy to see where he got waylaid - the plot doesn't exactly lend itself to restraint and carefulness, though with so many classical twists the film could have used much more of both - but stylistically this is a gauche and rather disrespectful film that will disappoint all but the hardiest fans of the genre. Cheung, whether knowingly or not, constructs a consciously artificial historical environment, responding to the magical elements of the text with a lack of imagination: the lens flare, the cumbersome production values and the brash, Westernised score (unfortunately now commonplace among many similar films) cheapen The White Haired Witch, which otherwise has enormous potential for sensory brilliance. Such cannily-selected details as the impressive authentic scenery or Timmy Yip's magnificent costumes are relegated to the background, as Cheung over-emphasises hollow spectacle, be it in interminable close-ups of mediocre acting, or poorly edited wuxia sequences. Tung Wei's action choreography is creative, but indistinguishable from the array of lacklustre stunt work spliced into these scenes. Indeed, Cheung displays a determination to render inherently dramatic aspects as banality, with his attentions apparently focused upon more questionable content: in particular, a wretched final scene that is just the wrong side of being an outrageous triumph of bad taste, but is therefore merely outrageously bad.