Friday, October 30, 2009

Review – The Bride with White Hair 2

October 30, 2009

The Bride with White Hair 2 – Hong Kong, 1993

Imagine that you were a screenwriter tasked with writing a sequel to The Bride with White Hair. The end of the first film left you with only two characters to do something with. One of them, Cho Yi-hang, was last seen perched like a hawk on top of a mountain waiting for the flower that can restore his love to her former self to bloom. The last we saw of the other character, she had just walked away from Cho after being emotionally betrayed by him, which for some reason caused her hair to turn white. It also made her violently angry, which is understandable under the circumstances. As a screenwriter, I suppose you’d have two options given such a set-up. You could continue the story of Cho Yi-hang and detail his endeavors to make amends with the woman he wronged. This option, if done right, could result in a film full of raw emotion, as well as some truly epic action sequences. On the other hand, you could take the film in a rather illogical direction and introduce new characters, in the vein hope that these characters would be interesting enough to hold the audiences interest until Cho Yi-hang finally departed the frozen mountain that he was watching over. To me, it’s a no-brainer, but I’ll give you one guess which option screenwriters David Wu and Ronny Yu selected.

The Bride with White Hair 2 picks up ten years after the tumultuous events that ended the first film. In the beginning of the film, we see that Cho Yi-hang (again played by Leslie Cheung) is still shivering through the long winter in the hopes that very soon the flower that can revert Ni-chang back to her former self will blossom. Ni-chang (Brigitte Lin), on the other hand, has not been idly waiting for Cho to return. Instead, she has spend the last ten years slowly and methodically picking off the descendents of the Wu-Tang clan – only this time she is not alone. We find that she has assembled an army of angry, grievously wronged, man-hating women, each of whom also just happens to be quite gifted at Kung Fu. The film shows us the events that led two of these ladies to join Ni-chang’s clan, and they are indeed tragic. This creates a problem for viewers because by the end of the film, the audience is asked to root against them. However, seeing young men attack women who had been victims of abuse from behind just seemed wrong, even in the context of the film.

With Cho still up on the mountain, the film has no choice but to introduce us to Cho’s nephew Kit Fung Chun (Sunny Chan). Kit seems destined to be the one to be selected to confront Ni-chang, but first he has to get married because when there’s a vicious killer on the loose, the most logical thing to do is to get married and risk making your new bride a widow. His friends however assure him that he and his new bride will be safe, for they reason – like all other well-intentioned buddies in these kinds of films – that not even a woman who hates men and all they stand for as much as Ni-chang does would dare disrupt a couple of their wedding night. Sure enough, though, she does. In the ensuing struggle, Kit makes it away safely, yet his bride Lyre (Yee-Man Man) is captured and taken back to Ni-chang’s lair, where a plot is hatched to brainwash Lyre and make her the one who will eventually kill Kit.

All of this would work in another film quite well. However, the longer the film delays in getting Cho back into the action, the more frustrating the movie becomes. It’s not that Kit and Lyre are not engaging characters, but rather that the audience knows that the film’s climax will likely not involve them directly. In addition, their relationship is simply not as interesting as Cho and Ni-chang’s. Given a choice, would the audience rather see a man trying to rescue someone whom we know still loves him deep down or a man trying to make amends with the woman he wronged, a woman who speaks of him with nothing but hurt and contempt in her voice? I’m guessing they would choose the latter. However, The Bride with White Hair 2 withholds that from the audience for quite a while.

In the meantime, we’re introduced to the usual bunch of eclectic characters – the archer, the tomboy, the klutz. Together, these men and a few others like them form a kind of fellowship. Their skillful when the script is establishing their credentials and failures when the script requires them to be. Very little time is devoted to developing these characters, so their fates do not resonate as well as they should. The character of Moon (well played by Christy Chung), the tomboy, is the exception. She is brave and determined and doesn’t tolerate cowardice or stupidity. However, the film is inconsistent when it comes to her romantic feelings. For most of the film, she seems to be in love with Kit, and yet towards the end of the film, she is in love with his friend, Green. The film does not provide a logical explanation for this inconsistency, nor does it adequately explain why a large group would fail to penetrate Ni-chang’s lair when Kit and Green are able to do so on their own without any difficulty later in the film. Are two swords in fact better than seven?

There are other problems with the film. For one, director David Wu elects to slow down many of the action scenes. I suppose this is done to draw attention to what the director considers to be essential moments. However, all this did was to give the film a rather amateurish look. Also awkward is the music video that accompanies Kit’s recollection of his courtship of Lyre. We see them exchanging messages via carrier pigeons and delighting in the other’s written romantic sentiments. This may have worked better if the song that accompanied the scene hadn’t seemed more appropriate for a contemporary teen romance.

And yet, despite these complaints and the film’s questionable decision to focus on Kit and Lyre’s relationship instead of that of Ni-chang and Cho’s, I cannot call the movie a complete failure. Kit and Lyre’s relationship is well explored, and viewers will likely find themselves somewhat interested in it. In addition, the character of Moon is consistently interesting and even gets a few of the film’s genuine laughs. More importantly, when the inevitable confrontation between Cho and Ni-chang does occur, it is indeed worth the wait, even if it isn’t given enough screen time. The film is therefore a missed opportunity, but an interesting one even so. (on DVD)

3 stars

*The Bride with White Hair 2 is in Cantonese with English subtitles.

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