With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Sunday, August 16, 2015

SNOW GIRL AND THE DARK CRYSTAL reviewed

Well Go USA
presents
Snow Girl and the Dark CrystalZhong Kui fu mo: Xue yao mo ling
Co-directed by Peter Pau and Zhao Tianyu
Starring Li Bingbing and Chen Kun
China/Hong Kong, 2015, 118 minutes

Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal is a Chinese action/fantasy romance that recently debuted on Digital HD, Blu-ray™ and DVD from Well Go USA Entertainment. This review is based on watching the Blu-ray version, the transfer of which was stunning.

As the film begins, we are told that there are three categories of beings: gods, humans, and demons. Once every millennium, on July 15th, when the moon is full, all beings can cross realms through reincarnation. The Dark Crystal of the title is said to memorialize the demons' bitter spiritual quest.

The city of Hu is near the demons' realm and its safety depends on getting the crystal out of the hands of the demons. Zhong Kui (Chen Kun of Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon and Flying Swords of Dragon Gate) is tasked by Master Zhang Daoxian (Winston Chao), a god, with stealing the Dark Crystal, which he succeeds in doing.

Zhong Kui in his transformed state

Snow Girl (Li Bingbing of Transformers: Age of Extinction and Detective Dee: Mystery of the Phantom Flame) is sent to Hu to regain possession of the crystal. She, it turns out, had been known as Little Snow three years earlier when Zhong Kui had fallen in love with her.

So, like other Chinese films such as The Bride with White Hair and its recent remake White Haired Witch, this story involves two star-crossed lovers from different realms. Only here the situation is complicated by certain characters not being what they appear to be. Consequently, uncertainty arises over whether Zhong Kui's feelings for Snow Girl will prove stronger than his duty to save Hu and its citizens, including his sister, from being overrun by demons.

Snow Girl as a performer sent to entrance the citizens of Hu

The film, co-directed by Peter Pau (who won the 2001 Oscar for Best Cinematography for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and Zhao Tianyu, makes extensive use of CGI special effects. The results, produced by a Korean company, are mixed. Zhong Kui is capable of transforming himself into a tall, demon-like creature who has what appears to be red hot lava inside of him. The appearance is photo-realistic, but the animation is somewhat staggered, rather like the stop motion of King Kong and Ray Harryhausen's films. Snow Girl, on the other hand, is very stylized in her animation sequences, and barely resembles Li Bingbing at those times.

Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal was originally released in 3D and some of the scenes clearly indicate that they were planned to maximize their impact in that format. While it comes across quite well in 2D, I had a feeling that it's a better watch in 3D. I'm actually hoping that it'll be shown at an upcoming New York Asian Film Festival in that format, as Tsui Hark's The Taking of Tiger Mountain 3D was at the 2015 NYAFF.

Master Zhang, left, and a tronaformed Zhong Kui

As released on disc, Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal is a decent enough watch. Rather enjoyable, actually, though by no means great. Like so many other recent films that are primarily products of Mainland China, the production values are good overall, but the acting is somewhat thin and superficial. Maybe it's just that I got spoiled by watching so many great Hong Kong actors and actresses in films of the 1980s and '90s. But even the newer crop of Hong Kong actors seem to consistently offer more in terms of depth and nuance than their mainland counterparts.

AsianCineFest Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars; better than fair, but not quite desrving of a "good" rating.

Disc Stats:

Audio
-- Mandarin 5.1 DTS HDMA or 2.0 Stereo
-- English 5.1 DTS HDMA or 2.0 Stereo

Subtitles
-- English
-- Off

Bonus Features
-- Making Of featurette (two segments)
   -- The Music Journey
   -- Visual Effects
-- Trailer

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