The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom (China, 2014)
The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom is loosely based on the classic fantasy novel Baifa Monu Zhuan by Liang Yusheng. It was shown in 3D in its home territory last year and has recently been released on DVD and Bluray in the United States by WellGo USA under the shortened title of White Haired Witch.
The beautiful Fan Bingbing stars as Jade Rakshasa/Lian Nichang, a wanted bandit and warrior who resides in Fort Luna at the edge of the Chinese empire toward the end of the Ming Dynasty. Corruption and murder run rampant at the Imperial Palace and Zhuo Yihang (Huang Xiaoming) of the Wudang Sect is unwittingly implicated in the murder of the crowned prince. Jade, her sister Coral, Yihang, and a group of undercover police looking to arrest Jade escape the Imperial troops at an outpost to Fort Luna where the people being protected at the fort are exposed to yellow fever. Imperial troops wish to capture Fort Luna, which is well defended, while Manchurian troops wait on the other side of the fort to invade China.
There is a lot more to the story. In fact, there is too much going on in The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom when a few simpler, and more developed, storylines would have made for a better film. I wanted to know more about Jade and how she came to be at Fort Luna. I wanted to know more about Fort Luna—how it came to be a refuge for some and the magic hidden in and around the fort. I also wanted to know about the political atmosphere of the time. Five different screenwriters are credited and that makes for too many ideas that are never completely explored. Jade’s conversion into the titular character happens late in the film and feels unsatisfying and incomplete.
Visually, however, Jacob Cheung’s film is absolutely stunning. Boasting Tsui Hark as an artistic consultant, it has gorgeous fight choreography by Wei (Stephen) Tung is gorgeous and I only wish there had been more of it. Costumes and sets are beautiful down to the last detail and the acting is uniformly good, especially Fan’s. And unlike previous adaptations of the wuxia novel, this emphasizes the story’s historical and political context. I liked The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom and found it to be quite entertaining but I didn’t love it.