White Snake – Fantasia 2019 Review

Folklore… In all of our childhoods, we’ve all experienced at least one set of traditional customs relating to the subject. While more commonly read in European and Asian countries, the legends and fables of these numerous cultures will continue to preserve the art of storytelling within these minority groups. For all that is sacred, art is meant to be expressed and shared; with Folklore being one of the original routes of the artistic medium. One country in particular, strives their individual entertainment industry on retellings of these very stories. Legends you can call it, where new adaptions of classic pieces of scribed literature are made for a new generation. With the ever growing business of e-commerce and digital viewing, the demand for more retellings of classic pieces is imminent in most countries. In the case of China, the aforementioned legends are taken apart and reconstructed into a product that is usually more sinister and plagued with malicious outdated ideas. 

Let it be known that I was never familiar with The Legend of White Snake before watching the latest re-incarnation of the famously beloved story. Although my taste for previous cinematic Chinese legends in the past has largely been hit or miss, I was open to the idea of a fresh contemporary start to a cherished classic. Although my unfair biases regarding the frequent epidemic of photo-realistic 3D animated features is admittedly harsh, the end result of White Snake is as decent of a product from what I originally expected. Recently acquired by major indie animation house GKIDS, there’s no wonder why there’s so much appeal behind this passion project. From the textures of the grass clippings and floral surroundings, to the lively expressions and designs of the characters, China has finally reached the same visual heights as DreamWorks and Blue Sky. Even the action set-pieces feel inspired by other Asian masters, including Zhang Yimou, who has perfected the art of Chinese wire work in a live action format. 

Yet in service of it’s multi-textured visuals and it’s pleasuring 360° degree sound mix, just like many other previous Chinese productions, the general thematic weight of the story just doesn’t fit with the original oral-readings of the classic fable. The original legends were specifically meant to be read, not necessarily visually adapted. For this reason, the inciting incident, climax, and resolution of these stories just feel overly simple. That’s largely the charm of folklore to begin with; but when you adapt one of these stories into a 90 minute feature, it largely becomes a tedious ride. However, White Snake has a slightly different result compared to most cinematic adaptations. Albeit it’s cliched first hour or so, where amateurish jokes and conflicts are frequently arisen to the heroes of our story, the final 30 minutes redeem the film’s prior faults.

The third act of White Snake is pretty much everything I could ask for in a folklore adaptation. It’s brutal, emotional, and has plenty of stakes. The characters feel livid and concentrated on their actions, where the set-pieces regarding the prejudice in-differences between human and demons, is one that still remains thematically relevant to this day; especially for contemporary North American audiences. Whilst the overly dramatic consequences and resolutions of both the classic legend and re-adaptation of The Legend of White Snake do feel slightly outdated and heavily formulated, this latest adaptation of the classic tale is one that is sure to hold up for years to come. With an epic finale that touches the heartstrings, the oftentimes brutal and varied approach to the original text is sure to please fans and admirers of classic storytelling and emotionally moving art.

White Snake screened at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival. GKIDS recently purchased the North American rights for the film, and is potentially set for a 2019 bow.

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