From time to time I like to dabble in a pool of older genre films. I don't find many masterpieces there, but some films are pretty entertaining. And once in a while, something really neat pops up. Green Snake [Ching Se] is one of those films, ranking among the top films the early '90s Hong Kong period has to offer.
Green Snake is a strange blend of genres, but not at all uncommon for those type of films. If you want to compare it to anything (that is remotely known) I guess A Chinese Ghost Story comes closest.
The film's main focus are two demon snakes that have travelled to the human world to live a better life. They act as dames and try to find a husband, as they can secure their lives in the human world by getting a human child. This might sound a bit silly, but in essence it differs little from many Roman or Greek legends we know (and accept them for what they are).
Of course, no HK film from that period is complete with at least some flashes of martial arts thrown in. So a travelling monk and Buddha priest are added to make the lives of our snakes a bit harder. Both are trained in the more magical areas of the martial arts field, resulting in many magical spells and little hand to hand combat.
What sets this film apart from his peers is the visual brilliance. It won't be to everyone's liking, but the abundant use of color is simply superb. Every shot in the film looks lush, be it through it's impressive, colorful set design or through the many filters that are used. The editing gives you little time to absorb all this beauty, but every new shot is impressive enough not to care.
Also typical for these type of films is the type of editing used. Because the means and budgets were not high enough to create the effects required in a believable way, many magical scenes are often shot up close and edited in such a way that the viewer will fill in the blanks. It can become a bit confusing this way, but all in all it's a splendid solution. Some scenes still look pretty cheap, but overall the effects never take away from the film.
Another thing worth mentioning is the music. Although probably hit and miss for many, I liked the music Hark has chosen for this film. Especially the song with the Indian (?) dancers stayed long after the movie had finished. Pretty strange, not everyone will far for it but I think it worked wonders here.
Of course, there's also the quirky acting and silly humor that are ever present in these HK films. It comes with the territory and I don't mind one single bit, but it's another factor that will turn off some people from films like Green Snake. Their loss I guess.
It's pretty easy to love or hate these kind of films. But if you're a fan of this kind of cinema, Green Snake is one of the best films to pick. It's Tsui Hark at his best, the film is lush in its visuals and score, is entertaining to the core and wastes no time on unnecessary things. Very likeable and extremely well-made.