Being a UK-based Hong Kong movie fan, who’s also partial to a physical release of a film as opposed to digital, the last few years have been complete bliss for me, with many golden age films being given the HD treatment.
Over the last 6 months, despite dark times for all of us, there have been various Blu Ray gems that have filled me with joy. One of the UK’s foremost Blu Ray distributors, Eureka!, have announced that due to Covid-19 there will be only one more release this year. Thankfully, it comes in the form of a revered classic: Ronny Yu’s fantasy swordplay extravaganza The Bride With White Hair.
The film is set in a mythical past, and takes its lead from Chinese swordplay fiction, a world wherein humans have magical powers and fantastical surrealism is commonplace. The movie centres on the Wu Tang Clan, a fictional sect with their own particular style of swordsmanship, and their war with an evil cult. The Clan’s leader, Cho Yi Hang (Leslie Cheung) is a tired and brooding figure. That is, until he meets the evil cult’s best warrior, Lien Ni Chang (Brigitte Lin) and the two fall in love. Their illicit love affair angers the crazed leaders of the cult, who are conjoined twins, and the stage is set for an ultimate battle.
Many see the film as a watershed Hong Kong movie, one that showcases cinema of great imagination and aesthetic beauty, and as a great introduction to the early 90s heyday. I am no different. Working within the limitations of a relatively low budget, the film ravishes the senses with expressionistic lighting, costume and set design which is among the best in any Hong Kong movie, and flashes of surrealistic swordplay.
At the time Hong Kong filmmakers were experimenting with a style of shooting action nicknamed ‘blur-fu’, which gives the sequences a stop motion-like visual effect. It suits the overall mood of the picture very well, although this papers over the cracks where some action lacks conviction.
Despite planting itself firmly in the fantasy swordplay genre, at its core the film is a fatalistic romance. No actors could have filled the roles better than Cheung and Lin, and both give committed, intense performances at a time when they were incredibly popular in Asia.
Be prepared, though, for a hefty slice of cheese, Hong Kong-style. This means a musical score that is over-emphatically romantic and scenes such as the two making love in a cave pouring with water in soft focus.
The film also contains two of the most memorable villains I have seen in cinema, with Francis Ng and Elaine Lui’s absolutely insane cult leaders. From the first reveal of their condition to a gory demise, not a frame is wasted in depicting their creeping, over-the-top performances. Even the distortion of Ng’s voice reminded me of the flesh-eating spirits in the classic horror Evil Dead.
The Bride With White Hair serves the viewer well as an introduction to Hong Kong cinema’s stylings, with enough to please those who appreciate sumptuous film-making and action. The melodramatic and cheesy aspects may be off putting for some, but personally, this drew me in to what proved to be an unusual and exciting mix of love, loss and violence.
This article was first published in the October 2020 issue of SNACK magazine. You can read the full magazine below on your smartphone, tablet, or pc.