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The Sorcerer and the White Snake

5.81 h 33 min2013X-RayPG-13
Jet Li stars as a sorcerer monk in this epic special effects fantasy film based on a Chinese legend.
Charlene Choi
Jet LiJet LiEva Huang
English [CC]
Audio languages
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Supporting actors
Raymond Lam
Siu-Tung Ching
Cheuk-Hon Szeto
PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned)
Content advisory
Sexual contentviolence
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4.2 out of 5 stars

1431 global ratings

  1. 62% of reviews have 5 stars
  2. 17% of reviews have 4 stars
  3. 9% of reviews have 3 stars
  4. 4% of reviews have 2 stars
  5. 7% of reviews have 1 stars
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Top reviews from the United States

FancyPanceReviewed in the United States on January 18, 2017
4.0 out of 5 stars
Tragic Chinese Mythology
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This is another retelling of the Legend of the White Snake, an ancient tale from Chinese mythology. It's a fantasy, fairly heavy on the CGI, but nice to look at. The story revolves around a monk (Jet Li) and a snake spirit (Huang Shengyi). The snake spirit falls in love with a human man, and he with her. You'll never guess what happens next. Yep, it turns out that spirit-human lovin' is verboten. Our monk, endowed with supernatural monk-powers, is hell-bent on putting an end to the relationship. Tragedy ensues.

In the classic telling, the monk is clearly the villain - he is himself a former spirit and is driven by jealousy against the snake spirit. In this version, the monk gets a more sympathetic treatment. I think the movie suffers for it. I can't get behind what the monk ultimately seems to stand for - wrapping senseless social codes in faux spirituality and self-righteously imposing those superstitious traditions on others, despite the cost to them. IMO, if anything deserves getting kung-fu kicked into the eternal abyss, it's that.

I don't want to give too much away. Suffice it to say that, though the snake spirit probably goes too far in seeking payback, the movie would have felt more satisfying had it taken a stronger stance against the monk's provincialism, prejudice, and hypocrisy.

That said, as far as ancient Chinese mytho-tragedies go, this movie is worth watching. It's a nice love story. Huang Shengyi is enchanting, and her love interest is a sweet guy worth rooting for. We love her all the more for falling for a guy like him. In the purely-for-the-sake-of-eye-candy department, there's a forest battle with some sexy demon minions. But it's brief. Which I suppose is a good thing, since it's quite probably more cheesy than sexy.

There's also a cute side relationship between the snake spirit's mischievous and capricious "little sister" (Charlene Choi) and a hapless upstart monk (Wen Zhang). This is another familiar genre trope (e.g., Qe'er and Pang Lang in Painted Skin: The Resurrection). The relationship provides the film with an opportunity to take some humorous pot shots at the stuffy prudishness of monastic culture.

Sidenote - It seems some people get confused because the spirits are all described as "demons" in translation. Because of the Judeo-Christian tradition, Westerners tend to have a one-dimensional understanding of demons - pure evil. In Chinese mythology, it's not so cut-and-dried. Both demons and gods can be good or evil - most often, they're somewhere in between. (For example, in Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal, the female "demon" is the heroine while the main "god" in the story ends up being the bad guy.) To some extent, the "gods" represent sanctioned authority, while the "demons" represent the marginalized. In ancient China, camouflaging narratives this way enabled story-tellers to criticize the state with a slightly reduced risk of having their heads lopped off.
42 people found this helpful
svAbhinavaReviewed in the United States on December 23, 2019
5.0 out of 5 stars
Creative retelling of most popular ancient Chinese folktale retains its core spiritual meaning
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The tensions and polarities inherent in the basic 'original' plot challenge authors, scriptwriters, directors, etc., to exercise individual creativity in 'resolving' them from the perspectives of other characters (monk Fahai). They willy-nilly end up foregrounding meanings already framed by the core narrative. This may be easily demonstrated for several key themes in the "The Sorcerer and the White Snake" (SWS, 2011 movie):

* Anamnesis and the kiss of life*: Fahai's first warning, for our benefit, to his apprentice Ning Ren is "Don't believe everything you see." We are plunged, on first snake encounter, deep into a mountain lake: when dark Xiaoqing frightens herb-gathering Xu Xian into falling in, her fair counterpart saves the drowning healer by forcibly kissing him. Applying mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, friends laugh at his traumatized hallucination (NDE?) of being revived by the unforgettable lips of a mystery woman. Smitten Bai Suzhen has Xiaoqing lure his boat to crash into the narrow wooden bridge connecting to her pavilion on West Lake. Protesting head-over-heels love for a salvific face he cannot recall, he rebuffs her advances, attempting to flee ashore. She starts severing the bridge, forcing him to walk backwards into her determined embrace. While he wonders who built this rickety island-pavilion that she insists is the most romantic vantage point to survey the charms West Lake. Noting his indebtedness for his life, the strange maiden laughingly drags him back down into her amniotic waters to be graced again with the unmistakeable rapture of that kiss that had transmitted the breath of life, bringing back his lost memory in a flash of 'recognition' (pratyabhijñā). Once consubstantial with the nourishing womb, the child remains (not just psychically) inhabited by the mother. Even without the Broken Bridge, the deeper meaning of the (consequent) consummation is made explicit through variant as commentary.

*Individuation through matricide* : In the pavilion, Xian had already intimated that she had not only given but "in a way" also taken his life. Fahai initially spared Bai, praising her selfless conduct, but warns her to abandon Xian and leave the human realm. When she protests her true love, the monk tells her to weep for both of them, instead of making him cry for her unilaterally imposed love. As its spiritual ascent peaks, the striving ego realizes that its own energies, including the desire for liberation, remain inescapably rooted in its demonic origin in the womb below. The only way for the individuated consciousness to cut loose is by surrendering the now purified ego, an inner death that amounts to deliberate matricide. Fahai confers his spirit dagger that is unwittingly used by his householder alter ego to mortally injure the monstrous reptile so fiercely defending their marriage against all odds. Incapable of harming her son-lover, the tearful snake plunges through the floorboards into West lake. The mortal healer, in this 'reversal' of roles, is now charged with resuscitating his self-sacrificing wife-mother. Just as the aspirant's spiritual ascent over several lives had been translated into white snake's ascesis over a thousand years, so too is her revival now equated to his rejuvenating (re-) descent into hell.

* Rejuvenation by robbing hell*: Even before the title screen, Fahai traps a vindictively seductive harpy, delegating disciple Neng Ren to confine her, with all other previously captured demons, at Leifeng Pagoda. Like elephant-trunked Hindu Gaṇeṣa stationed at the (spine's) root-foundation (mūlādhāra), the white serpent has a rat for companion, who divulges that the life-restoring root is to be found only at the base of the pagoda. However, this root is what keeps demons confined in hell, its theft releases them into the human world. More often hidden far away on Kun Lun mountain, at the South Pole, or in the highest heaven, the elixir (= soma) is won only by transgressing the Law. In LWS, thief Bai is being decapitated but the punishing sword is transformed into a garland by the Goddess of Mercy, who thus overrules the divine order. Just as Green's poison was transmuted by White into antidote (LWS), these same destructive energies rejuvenate under spiritual control. Fahai wraps the 'possessed' (āveśa) Xian in his own white upper garment before proceeding with collective exorcism back in Jinshan temple. Attacked by a demonic swarm of counterfeit roots that cling to his writhing body, the healer had set them and thereby himself on fire, leaving only the single true incombustible herb that the rat scurries away to revive the snake. Ultimately, it is the pure monk who is being consumed, through proxy, by the blazing fire of consciousness, fueled by the demoniac energies he has willfully unleashed.

*Enlightenment through regression*: Mortal combat against the primordial serpent becomes the cosmogonic canvas for depicting Fahai's liberating return to the womb. Possessed by demons, Xian is seated, while being exorcized, on the lap of a giant Buddha in the middle of the island-temple magically sealed off from the outside world. For the monk, it is the serpent that has cast a possessive spell now being undone. He warns bewildered Bai that interrupting the exorcism ritual would result in Xian's death. Unable to defeat the powerful monk, the sisters unleash a towering flood to drown the entire chanting congregation, while rat-demons emerge from beneath the statue to break their magic circle. Repeatedly stung by White's deadly fangs, Fahai is devoured by Green, only to tear out of her belly and fall onto the frizzy crown of the submerged statue. Steeped in mystic trance (samādhi) to generate a fiery protective bubble that neutralizes their tsunami, he restores Leifeng pagoda, just pulverized by Bai, trapping her beneath. Triumphantly reborn and illumined, the now merciful Chan master, heeding Bai's appeal, strenuously lifts the tower for her to rush out for a desperate last embrace. Uncomprehending Xian, though deeply moved by her anguish, is again unable to recognize Bai—resigned to shedding copious tears on behalf of them both—until she kisses him. Immediately sucked back beneath the column, White reverts to her diminutive form of coiled serpent. The 'doomed' healer remains unscathed, for the "interruption" symbolically projects the process of the lone aspirant attaining enlightenment: "seeing is believing" only when our inner eye is able to pierce through the 'twilight language' of myth.

Transgressive sacrality & the demon-monk: In furthering his master's unrelenting crusade against evil, Neng Ren is bitten by the bat-demon king, whose poison begins disfiguring the human. With his increasingly grotesque external aspect, Neng Ren, too ashamed to face his former prey, is committing suicide when saved by the darker sister, who reveals her own sinister identity before taking it upon herself to teach him how to be a (good) demon. Xiaoqing fends for and nourishes this erstwhile devil-hunter to whom she was sexually attracted from the beginning, tempting the "sinner" with meat, blood, and her own pretty neck as offering. Curiously enough, Ren retains his essential human qualities, and does not feast on mortal flesh. Earlier, when asked why not befriend demons that are benign, he had responded that the master had only taught him to exorcise: she already observed then that his (master's) teacher has a problem. At the height of the tsunami, with his almost lifeless guru stretched out on the Buddha's crown, demon Ren rescues not only his belly-ripped companion Xiaoqing but also all his drowning fellow monastics. Unwilling to follow Bai's example of clinging to the every end, her alter ego slips back into the deep. Though Fahai eventually succeeds in confining Bai beneath the pagoda, his self-doubts culminate into (re-) accepting, as fellow traveler in his onward journey, his faithful disciple, who has already violated the three monastic taboos. The human Ren was earlier introducing himself, in the presence of a rather unamused Fahai, as his master's ordained successor. Their odd verbal exchange at the very beginning confirms it is himself that Fahai 'relegates' to confine the harpy. This retelling thus ends with Fahai at peace with his own inescapable and transgressive inner demon munching on the (elixir-) apple.

Driven by its ‘contradictory’ self-negating dynamic, LWS, like authentic tradition itself, keeps reproducing its perennial message through the innovative (re-) creativity of successive generations attentive to and respectful of its internal structure, however radical their reevaluations of themes, characters, events, etc., might appear at first sight.

6 people found this helpful
HoppyRooReviewed in the United States on January 16, 2022
3.0 out of 5 stars
Close to 4
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Really close to 4, but I can't...

Camera work - great... better than a lot of other Chinese flicks
Audio - absolutely nothing wrote...
Acting - seemed pretty solid from pretty much the whole cast...
SFX - Good, but WAY too over the top and cartoonish... CGI in particular
Plot - Meh... Not super original, but I believe this is based on a Chinese myth, and from what I can tell they did a decent job...

My main reasons for knocking this down to a 3 from a 4 are the INSANE CGI effects, as well as a sort of lack luster story, so I just can't see myself watching this again...

Chinese movies seem to have a lot of problems with trying to make the movie SO over the top with visuals that they end up detracting from the movie in the long wrong... lots of CGI coloring just seemed off... and it was EVERYWHERE... If there were more than 3 or 4 scenes in this whole movie without CGI in them, I'd be impressed... it's just too much...

Other than that, it's a fairly decent movie... and probably worth a watch if you are bored and like Jet Li...

Feel free to read my other reviews... I review a LOT... my scale

1 - this movie should never have been made
2 - bad movie... I probably made it to the end, and I probably regret that I did...
3 - ave movie... maybe a soft recommend. Will probably not watch again...
4 - solid movie... lots of good stuff... WILL probably watch again...
5 - I need to call my friends right now...
One person found this helpful
Happy Happy Joy joyReviewed in the United States on January 8, 2022
2.0 out of 5 stars
This movie came out 14 years after the matrix....WOW...and not in a good way.
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The movie is listed as a "Jet Lee stars as a sorcerer in this special effects fantasy film....". The special effects are horrible. The story is so classic Chinese its stupid, I am so embarrassed with all the stupid tropes . This is hard to watch. I can not excuse its horrible ....well uhhhh CGI? or is it 1980's masking its jarring. I am not a big martial arts person and this is not that. It is however a poorly done movie on a shoe string budget in a classic Kung Fu movie style. Very out dated, heavy on Chinese mythical tropes...women giggle a lot and fey weakness...blah blah blah. Just laughable for 2013, this is the kind of movie I expect to see in 1984. Uhhhggg,.
2 people found this helpful
Paton J. LewisReviewed in the United States on January 18, 2022
2.0 out of 5 stars
Don't waste your time
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Yes, it's "visually stunning", if you overlook all the sloppy special effects. But that's the only redeeming factor of this vapid and saccharine movie. The main problem, however, is the constantly shifting and undefined framework for magic in this world--characters have random unexplained powers that change and grow to suit the weak narrative in unexplained and annoyingly convenient ways. In addition, the characters are supposed to be in love when they don't know each other at all, which makes it impossible to be emotionally invested in the story. The movie tries to build to a crescendo that just leaves you yawning and waiting for it to end. Take advantage of my wasted time and don't waste yours: don't be fooled by the flashy trailer.
One person found this helpful
SuperDanReviewed in the United States on January 8, 2022
5.0 out of 5 stars
I don't like reading movies BUT...
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So I'm just a regular guy. I'm not, l what I imagine most of the other reviewers are, elite with regard to this movie. Action? Yep. Romance? Yep. An astonding story? Absolutely! CGI was quite a bit off on some parts but that didn't take anything from the movie at all. I really really enjoyed reading this one.
2 people found this helpful
The ShopinatorReviewed in the United States on August 22, 2015
3.0 out of 5 stars
Great classic Fable/Folk Tale told reasonably, but cheaply in some ways and lavishly in others. Worth seeing, though.
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A good rainy day movie for yourself or the kids, this is what could have been a better produced retelling of what is China's oldest cautionary Fable, dating back thousands of years.

A great story with the usual "well, it could have been worse" ending that many Chinese dramas have, but there are very entertaining moments, the story is, of course, compelling and some of the characters are fun, even if they are typical caricatures of archetypes.

It's fun, though, and you end up rooting for the folks you should and booing the ones you should, like any good fable should invoke.

Sound is not fab. Dialog gets lost sometimes in the music tracks, but if you're reading the subtitles, all you need to hear is the tone and delivery. The music is okay, though the movie strives to feel Western too much, the major flaw in the production.

It's also an earlier version of using modern CGI techniques for scenes that could have been FAR better pulled off with practical special effects, especially many fight scenes. Not deftly wielded, the CGI effects cheapen the look of the film, though they were probably cheaper to use, too.

This is interesting considering that some of the sets are really good. Sometimes, the film looks beautiful, others, it looks kinda "movie of the week" cheap.

Still, if you don't know the actual Fable, this is a good introduction to the earliest powerful folk story in China, and so, worth seeing and on rare occasions, is rather revelatory about the origin of some icons of Chinese culture.

It may not be the best movie you ever see, but you won't hate it, either... probably fun for stoners, I'd think.
6 people found this helpful
Therese M.Reviewed in the United States on April 8, 2015
4.0 out of 5 stars
It is a love story where the couple is fated to be separated ...
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I found this story to be moving. Somehow you identify with the characters and their peculiar dilemmas. It is a love story where the couple is fated to be separated since one is a human and the other is a spirit-demon. Here demon is some kind of contradictory idea about the nature of spiritual reality and forces. There is a unharmonious mix of ideas which don't work but somehow the acting and basic love between the couple carries the movie. Visually it is a feast and a lot of fun to see some Eastern myths about the spirit world and their effects on the plot. The movie is great, explains several Oriental ideas which are interesting, for example, how monks use purbas (three sided symbolic knives) to deal with spirits, how 'life essence' can work and be shared, etc. If you are interested in a fun, romantic movie or a strange mix of Eastern ideas and certain elements of Buddhism then this is a great movie. It probably is useful in showing you an insider's view of Tantric Buddhism but I don't know enough to know which of the various Buddhist schools this represents. Anyway, some how this was a wonderful movie although it mixes all kinds of contradictions to generate visual magic and emotional reactions.
2 people found this helpful
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