The Bride With White Hair looks more like an overly produced and big budgeted stage play than an actual movie. As written and directed by Ronny Yu (with co-writer David Wu) The Bride With White Hair looks overproduced, overacted, but strangely simplified in story.
Hong Kong regular Leslie Cheung stars as Yi-hang, the best warrior in the Wu-Tang Clan, the present head clan of the 8 Clans, a group of martial artists that lords over the Chinese “underworld” — re: the realm of civilized society where the ruling dynasty (in this case, the Ming) doesn’t reach. (Or so I gather, since the movie is very brisk and lacking with exposition.) Trouble arises when an evil, outlawed cult begins slicing off the heads and bodies of Ming soldiers and peasants alike. The 8 Clans are called into action, and naturally Yi-hang is ordered to lead the expedition to deal with this new menace. Unfortunately Yi-Hang is a happy-go-lucky kind of guy and doesn’t want to fight and kill as a matter of course; and he also happens to have fallen in love with the beautiful Lian Nichang (Brigitte Lin), the “wolf girl” who just happens to be the enforcer for said evil cult. When their two sects clash in combat, Nichang and Yi-hang decides it’s none of their business and flees to a secret rendezvous to be alone, but that’s only the start of their problems…
At just 80-plus minutes of actual running time, The Bride With White Hair is surprisingly very short. The movie moves at a very brisk pace and director Ronny Yu only bothers with exposition when it is absolutely necessary. For the most part, Yu uses montage footage to convey what is going on in the background, and as a result we aren’t given the full impact of the political intrigues of China at the moment. Instead, Yu prefers to concentrate on exploding bodies, decapitated heads, severed body parts, and whole torsos being sliced and diced by everything from swords to spears to whips to strands of hair. (Yes, I said strands of hair.) As you can imagine, the bodycount is quite high, and rivulets of fake blood are common.
Flying body parts aside, The Bride With White Hair is most notable for the lush colors and in-door studio sets that Yu built and cinematographer Peter Pau (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) frames with exquisite attention. It’s not too farfetched to guess that every single scene was shot indoors, from the wooded areas to the evil cult’s exterior scenes. Besides moving the camera constantly and never settling for static framing, Yu and Pau have decided to film much of the action using varied film speed, with the result being a blurry image whenever the actors engage in swordplay. This could be dismissed as an aesthetic choice, only it seems rather odd that most of the varied film speed technique comes into play only when actor Leslie Cheung is involved in the mayhem, which might leave some to wonder if the actor really knows anything about martial arts or if it’s all camera tricks.
Just as exposition is lacking in The Bride With White Hair, so too are context to many of the characters. The only two characters that come through with any measure of attention are the two leads, Cheung and Lin, while the rest passes by like ships in a thick fog. They come into view for a moment, say their lines, and leave again. We never get a firm handle on them, and many of the actors ham up their roles, refusing to adhere to any sense of subtlety. The main villains are two twins conjoined at the back, and the woman part of the duo can easily get on one’s nerves with her endless laughter. Overact much, lady?
Despite having the movie’s most well developed roles (which isn’t saying much, by the way), Lin and Cheung nevertheless doesn’t exactly wow. Lin, in particularly, varies quite a bit in her portrayal of the deadly Nichang, but I put the blame here on Yu, who should have given her better directions on how to handle her part. As it stands, Nichang goes from bloody executioner slicing people’s torsos in two with her whip to a giggling schoolgirl just discovering love. This split in personality feels forced and uneven. Cheung is sometimes very good as the carefree Yi-hang, but his character’s prowess with a sword fluctuates quite a bit. He’s invincible one moment and lacking in any type of skills the next. Again, the blame for this goes to the writing, of which Yu is a co-writer.
The Bride With White Hair spawned a sequel, which might be necessary considering that this 80-minute original doesn’t actually have an ending. The film is book marked by two scenes, both taking place at the same location and involving a certain miracle flower. Considering this movie’s ending, it would seem a sure bet that the filmmakers had a sequel in mind the whole time, and never planned on wrapping everything up with this installment.
Ronny Yu (director) / Ronny Yu, David Wu (screenplay)
CAST: Brigitte Lin …. Lian Nichang
Leslie Cheung …. Zhuo Yi-Hang
Francis Ng …. Male Ji Wushuang
Kit Ying Lam …. Ho Lu Hua