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Old story gets new twist
Updated: 2019-01-10 07:31:04
( China Daily )

Sino-US animated coproduction White Snake, which will open in Chinese mainland theaters on Friday, is inspired by a 1,000-year-old folk tale that depicts the fantastic romance of Xu Xian and Bai Suzhen, a snake spirit which longs to become a human and transforms into a woman. [Photo provided to China Daily]

A unique take on a much-loved Chinese folk tale is vying for box-office honors, Xu Fan reports. 

Film director Zhao Ji is very familiar with the traditional folk tale Legend of the White Snake, but has always been puzzled by it.

In the tale, which originated in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), Bai Suzhen, a white snake spirit which longs to be a human, transforms itself into a beautiful woman.

Then, while wandering on a bridge over West Lake in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, she bumps into Xu Xian-a suave, handsome young man-falls in love and marries him. But the romance sours after he discovers his wife's secret.

Xu is scared and turns to a powerful monk for help, who jails her in the Leifeng Tower for two decades.

Zhao's question is: Why does the white snake fall head-over-heels for Xu Xian and even risk her life for such an undeserved companion?

In the tale, the man betrays his wife, despite her being pregnant.

"It doesn't make sense," says Zhao.

"She is pretty, kind and has superpowers, but he is a coward, who is unable to financially support them," adds the director.

Sino-US animated coproduction White Snake, which will open in Chinese mainland theaters on Friday, is inspired by a 1,000-year-old folk tale that depicts the fantastic romance of Xu Xian and Bai Suzhen, a snake spirit which longs to become a human and transforms into a woman. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Zhao wanted the story, one of China's most popular folk tales, to be more understandable for the modern Chinese audience.

So, he teamed up with Hong Kong animator Amp Wong to co-direct White Snake, an animated film which will open across the Chinese mainland on Friday.

A Sino-US coproduction, the film also marks Warner Bros. Pictures' first animation feature to be made in collaboration with a Chinese partner-Light Chaser Animation, which is a Beijing-based company known for making animation features rooted in Chinese culture.

Warner's first coproduction with a Chinese studio was The Meg, a sci-fi epic which became a box office hit both in China and North America last year.

Speaking about the making of the film, Zhao says experts from the Hollywood studio helped them during the production process.

While the story has been adapted before, for a string of films and TV series, including the Angie Chiu TV hit, The Legend of White Snake (1992-1993) and Tsui Hark's 1993 classic film, Green Snake, the upcoming movie is the first to offer a convincing explanation for the events in the tale.

In this latest version, the story is set around 300 years before the Legend of the White Snake unfolds, a turbulent period in the late Tang Dynasty (618-907).

Then, a guoshi-a high-ranking official revered as a religious leader by the country's top ruler-forces villagers to hunt snakes as part of a secret scheme to make him immortal.

Bai, trained as a killer in a snake spirit clan, is assigned to assassinate him, but she fails and is rescued by Xu Xue, a villager who is destined to become Xu Xian in his next life.

Xu Xian is brave, smart and responsible, and to be with Bai-who believes a trans-species love is cursed-the young man trades his existence as a human with a fox to become a demon spirit.

Sino-US animated coproduction White Snake, which will open in Chinese mainland theaters on Friday, is inspired by a 1,000-year-old folk tale that depicts the fantastic romance of Xu Xian and Bai Suzhen, a snake spirit which longs to become a human and transforms into a woman. [Photo provided to China Daily]

To make the movie, the crew toured to southwestern China's Guizhou province to find inspiration for the settings, where the karst landscape-part of a UNESCO world heritage site and home to an underground world of gigantic caves-as well as the ethnic Miao dwellings, gave a unique look to the film, says Zhao.

Also, the characters' outfits and shoes are based on historical records from the late Tang Dynasty, says Wong, the co-director.

Separately, Zhao says: "We did a computer-generated animation of Chinese brush painting-like sequences, which are scarcely featured in animation films."

Zhao also says that, as traditional Chinese brush paintings present only two-dimensional landscapes, it was technically difficult to make the settings seem real in three-dimensional CG animation.

Is this creative effort enough to win in the lackluster January market, which is currently being dominated by Paramount Pictures' Bumblebee?

The competition is fierce, as Irish film The Breadwinner, a nominee for Best Animation Feature at the 90th Academy Awards and Japanese animation film, Fate/stay night: Heaven's Feel, will also be released on Friday.

Contact the writer at xufan@chinadaily.com.cn

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