Madam White Snake 

Director:  Shin Sang-okl
Year: 1960
Rating: 7.0

Country: Korea

The legend of a snake transforming itself into a beautiful young woman and seducing an innocent likely virginal man goes back a long ways and is well-known all over Asia. This along with foxes turning themselves into females were probably meant as morality lessons to men - women are dangerous, they are seductive, they will get you into trouble - so stay away from them unless a woman has been approved by the family who knows her family. Don't go falling for just some strange woman you come upon who wiggles her hips and gives you come hither looks. Especially if her hands are cold. This legend has not surprisingly found its way into many films with beautiful actresses taking on the role of a snake - Maggie Cheung, Joey Wong, Jade Leung, Linda Lin Dai, Sridevi, Reena Roy and Shirley Yamaguchi to name a few that I know of.

Well, here is another such tale from Korea starring Choi Eun-hee as a white snake. A lonely snake who has lived in a dark cave for one thousand years. It is no wonder that she wants a little company, some love, romance, the touch of a warm body. All she has to do is take on human form along with her servant - a blue snake - and find a willing man. With her looks that will not prove difficult. One sunny day along comes Heo Seon (Shin Seong-il) taking a ride on a wooden boat when it is waved over by two women when it suddenly starts to rain. He is introduced, lends them his umbrella to get home and promises to pick it up the next day. When she comes out to meet him undulating and dancing like a spinning sultry top, all is lost - he is bedazzled and becomes her bedmate. This leads to all sorts of problems - jail, banishment, almost being beheaded, murder, jail again etc - but he loves her. It reminded me of the Hong Kong film He's a Woman, She's a Man when Leslie Cheung says "I don't care if you are a woman or a man. I just know I love you". Or a snake in this case. Snake sex must be amazing.

I quite enjoyed this - a very simple tale of a unique kind of love that isn't at all splashy - with only a few special effects that are quite primitive - and reaches a nice climax. One could also interpret films like this and Green Snake from Hong Kong as a critical look at the way society and particularly religion forces individuals not to step out of bounds or the weight of society will come crashing down on you.

Choi Eun-hee is lovely though her paramour is quite stiff and formal. This is directed by Shin Sang-ok and he has quite an interesting story to tell. Shin Sang-ok was born in 1926 and was directing by the early 1950's and was fairly prolific and so popular that he was called The Prince of South Korean Cinema. As a Prince in 1954 he married the lead in this film Choi Eun-hee, who was a star in her own right. They were divorced in 1976 though.

Then later the crazy stuff happens. When Choi was visiting Hong Kong because of a phony offer to direct in 1978 she was kidnapped by the North Koreans by order of Kim Jong-Il, who was a huge movie buff (so was Stalin co-incidentally) and brought to North Korea. Shin then goes to Hong Kong to look for his ex-wife and gets kidnapped too! Holy shit. Kim thought North Korean films needed an upgrade and what could be simpler than kidnapping two famous people in the business. In North Korea Shin holds out for 2 years but is then forced to direct seven films - one being Pulgasari, a monster movie. In 1986 Kim allows the couple - oh he made them remarry - to go to a film festival in Vienna and they escaped to the American Embassy and they are allowed to go to Hollywood! Where he directs or produces the three 3 Ninja movies which I think are about Ninja kids in America? What the hell. Eventually, he goes back to live in South Korea when he is assured he won't be arrested. And he wasn't.

This film can be found up on You Tube in the Korean Film Archive section. All with subtitles.