The Bride with White Hair

Reviewed by YTSL

This winner of the Grand Prize at the Fantastica film festival in Paris is one of the most visually striking and astounding movies to have come out of Hong Kong.  Its sets and costumes come across as works of art.  The choice and use of colors is inspired and sophisticated.  This fantasy mood piece also possesses a most enthralling musical score (It is, frankly, a travesty that no soundtrack album has apparently ever been issued as a film tie-in and that only a limited number of photo books were published).

Along with a top notch crew (of whom art director Eddie Ma, cinematographer Peter Pao, composer Richard Yuen and costume designer Emi Wada definitely deserve mention), director Ronnie Yu is also blessed by having his cast led by the bewitching Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia and Leslie Cheung.  This duo's performances ensure that there is soul and depth as well as style to THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR.   It is they who make one believe in and feel for their larger-than-life characters and the(ir) highly dramatic story.

The tale itself is a familiar one of two star-crossed lovers a la "Romeo and Juliet" and  "The (Butterfly) Lovers" (both of which have been made into more than one movie).  The variation here lies in the protagonists being:  A fierce, whip-wielding woman who, for some time, had been the number one killing machine of a cult led by an outcast pair of Siamese twins (who come in the form of Francis Ng and Elaine Lui); and a reluctant heir to a powerful alliance of eight mainstream martial clans.  Complications come from the imperial Chinese government ordering the clans to go to war against the kind of unorthodox sects that are threatening the country from within and the Siamese twins actually being banished members of the clans on which they seek revenge.  Other obstacles to the love between Cho Yi-Hang (Leslie Cheung) and Lien Ni-Chang (Brigitte Lin), the formerly nameless wolf-girl -- really! -- who happily had one bestowed on her by Yi Hang, include:  An ambitious clan rival of Yi Hang's coveting the man as well as his position; and the male half of the Siamese twins salivating after Ni-Chang even as the female half mocks her brother for doing so.
Among the other things that sets apart that which has been described by many as "an adult fairy tale" is that the two protagonists ARE adults (unlike the youthful Romeo, Juliet, Ying-Toi and Tsan-Pak); albeit those whose first glimpse of each other came when the flute-playing girl called a pack of wolves away from a boy who had been trying to do a good deed by rescuing a goat.  Other "adult" elements evident in this movie have prompted the authors of "Sex and Zen & A Bullet in the Head" to describe it as "darker and more erotic than most" (Hammond and Wilkins, 1996:17).  Above all, what distinguishes THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR for me -- as well as underlies its maturity -- is its emphasizing that trust is as important as mutual attraction, passion and sacrifice in intimate relationships.

Lest it be thought otherwise, I would like to make clear that this romantic tragedy is not at all without elements and moments of humor, charm, swashbuckling action and fancy.  Still, I would caution that there are portions of the movie that lose their potency if one were to see humor rather than drama in them.  I (also) must admit to feeling that the film's finale would have benefited from less bouncing off walls and columns and other manic action.  Even so, this is a very fine production, which has made -- and will undoubtedly continue to make -- many Hong Kong movie fans of its viewers.

N.B. The latest Tai Seng release of THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR comes with a very interesting "making of" documentary that ought not to be missed as well as larger and clearer subtitles.

My rating for the film:  9.