Madam White Snake (1962)

MADAM WHITE SNAKE (1962)
aka Bai she zhuan
Article 4768 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-25-2015
Directed by Feng Yueh
Featuring Dai Lin, Lei Zhao, Margaret Tu Chuan
Country: Hong Kong
What it is: Chinese fantasy opera

A white snake spirit and her sister, a green snake spirit, arrive in the mortal world in human form. The white snake spirit falls in love and marries a lowly pharmacist, who isn’t aware that he’s married a supernatural being. Then a monk appears who knows the truth…

I’ve encountered this story before in an earlier production the Shaw Brothers produced in conjunction with Toho. This one is based on an operatic version of the story, and though portions of the production are spoken, most of the movie involves singing and dance. Usually, this type of thing would make me less likely to enjoy a movie, but because I’ve seen very little Chinese opera, in this case it adds quite a bit of novelty value; in fact, the musical style reminds me more of Bollywood movies than it does of what I’m used to thinking of as opera. If anything, I prefer this version; it has a nice visual feel, and the dance sequence where the spirit must acquire a magical flower to return her husband to life is the highlight of the movie. There are a few other versions of this story out there which I’ll probably encounter some time in the future.

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