J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal: Zhong Kui and his Demon Lover

Zhong Kui was celebrated for his ugliness. It was all part of his demon-hunting mystique. Perhaps that explains why there have been relatively few media appearances for the proto-exorcist, despite his huge importance in Chinese folklore. Finally, a big name star places a choice role above the concerns of vanity. However, a few liberties were taken with the legend in Peter Pau & co-director Zhao Tianyu’s big-screen CGI epic, Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal (trailer here), which releases today on DVD and BluRay, from Well Go USA.

Xueqing (a.k.a. Snow Girl, a.k.a. Little Snow) literally lives in the corner of Hell that is frozen over. “Lives” isn’t the right word, but so be it. Years ago, she bewitched the earnest young scholar Zhong Kui, only to mysteriously vanish. The Demon King has held her in reserve for precisely this rainy day, so to speak.

Under the tutelage of the demigod Zhang Daoxian, Zhong has become a scourge of the supernatural capable of harnessing his inner demon. Against all odds, Zhong has pulled off a daring raid into Hell to steal the Dark Crystal. Every millennium, the anti-Henson Crystal allows the demons of Hell to crossover in the world of men en mass. Of course, Zhong’s provincial Hu City stands right at the cusp of that doorway. With the millennial date fast approaching, Zhong can establish Hu City’s lasting security if he can maintain control of the Crystal for seven days. Of course, Hell will not go quietly. In fact, they send their A-team: a dozen lady-demons disguised as exotic dancers, led by Xueqing herself. The former lovers will soon pick up where they left off, but Zhong will have bigger problems to face than the equally love-struck Xueqing.

Billed as one of the most expansive Chinese films ever, Crystal is heavy on the CGI. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. However, Zhao’s screenplay, co-written with the battery of Shen Shiqi, Li Jie, Raymond Lei Jin, and Eric Zhang is the real spectacle to behold. In a strange twist, the more familiar viewers are with the Zhong Kui legend, the more they will anticipate the third act revelations. Yet, the weirdest aspect is just how Milton-esque the film gets, as in the tradition of Paradise Lost.

As Zhong, Chen Kun glowers and grimaces with appropriate ferocity, while Li Bingbing is so willowy looking, you would think she came from the Faerie Kingdom rather than H, E, double hockey sticks. However, (Summer) Jike Junyi looks plenty ready for sin, which suits Xueqing’s sidekick Yi Wei just fine. Still, Winston Chao’s Lord Zhang is second to none when it comes to feasting on the scenery.

Crystal has some wildly cinematic action scenes that essentially combine the martial arts and kaiju genres. Even with all the large scale transformations and mythic beasts, Pau and Zhao maintain a connection to the underlying human element. The real problem is some of the spectacle is not as spectacular as it should be. Nevertheless, nobody can accuse the film of timidity with respects to its ancient archetypes. Recommended for fans of Li and wuxia monsters, Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal is now available on DVD and BluRay, from Well Go USA.

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