Even in the crowded market of Hong Kong costume actioners, “The Bride With White Hair” cuts a classy swath. Highly operatic pic version of a novel based on a classic Chinese fable teams superstar cult faves Brigitte Lin (“The East Is Red”) and Leslie Cheung (“Farewell My Concubine”) in a no-holds-barred meller that could break out to wider dates than the fest and noodle circuit.
The movie took a solid $ HK20 million ($ 2.5 million) locally and preemed in the international marketplace at Mifed last fall under the title “Jiang-Hu: Between Love & Glory.” A sequel, also with Lin and Cheung, opened last December to cooler local biz.
Pic marks a change of pace for director Ronny Yu, who bowed with the tough crime movie “The Servants” in 1979. Yu recently followed action director John Woo into the U.S. with plans to helm the $ 6 million English-language fantasy “Slayer” this summer for producer Stuart Shapiro.
Original yarn, which bears resemblances to German “mountain” myths (such as Leni Riefenstahl’s “The Blue Light”) and was even adapted into a ballet during China’s Cultural Revolution, concerns a thwarted love affair with a mountain girl whose hair has turned white. Present pic is based on a 1958 novel by well-known Hong Kong martial arts novelist Leung Yu-sang, which constructs a grand tale about warring clans at the end of the Ming dynasty.
Opening has the emperor’s troops scaling a snowy peak to find a fabulous flower that blossoms every 20 years and has the power of rejuvenation. The bloom is guarded by swordsman Cho (Cheung), who’s been waiting 10 years for his lost love and relates his tragic story.
When a young man, Cho fell for the so-called “wolf girl” Lien (Lin), member of a wild, sybaritic cult ruled by a sister-brother pair of psychotic Siamese twins (Ng Chun-yu, Elaine Lui) who are still joined at the spine. Cho’s master, leader of the Seven Clans, wants to annihilate the cult, and the two lovers get caught in the crossfire, with Cho finally losing Lien after a climactic battle.
Though the action sequences when they come are the equal of anything from the best — especially the final showdown, in which Lien’s hair turns white and she develops super powers — the film has a broad-spanned, darkly tragic atmosphere that sets it apart from regular, effects-heavy fare. Aided by a fine score from Richard Yuen and a Dolby soundtrack done in Vancouver, it’s as much a tragic romance as a rapid-fire chop-chop actioner.
Lin, who’s cornered the market in fantasy super-femmes since “The East Is Red ,” is perfect casting, with Cheung fine as the lovelorn swordsman. So fluid is Yu’s direction that he can move from over-the-top sequences with the horrible Siamese twins to rapturous love scenes in mountain pools with nary a pause.
Production values are all excellent, with Peter Pau’s lensing making the most of Eddie Ma’s Wagnerian sets and Emi Wada’s kill-for costumes.