The Bride With White Hair

The Bride With White Hair (1993)
Tai Seng Video Marketing
Cast: Leslie Cheung, Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia
Extras: Trailers, Biographies

After only four titles, Tai Seng’s domestic releases have established themselves as outstanding films that are released as excellent DVD discs. It makes Tai Seng the most important publisher of Hong Kong movies in the US, and, indeed, worldwide, as their discs are not region coded and can be played everywhere in the world. Now we hold "The Bride With White Hair" in our hands, a movie that is exceptional in many respects, and we want to see if this film stands up to Tai Seng’s reputation. The answer is yes. To put it in a nutshell, "Bride With White Hair" sets a new standard for their releases to come.

Based on a novel from the 1950’s, "The Bride With White Hair" tells the story of Cho Yi Hang (Leslie Cheung), a member of the Wu Tang Clan (and yes, this is where the musical act got its name). We watch him grow up under the strict eyes of his master, who teaches him leadership and sword fighting skills, grooming him so that one day Cho can become the new leader of the eight clans that make up Wu Tang. Cho has a mind of his own, and thus often runs into problems with the clan’s elders, but when a dark and evil cult appears, he knows that he has to fight for the Wu Tang, to defend their freedom with his life.

Led by the Siamese twins Chi Wu Shuang, this Supreme Cult is out to kill every member of the eight clans. One of their deadliest weapons is Lien (Lin Ching Hsia), the wolf girl. Cho and Lien had met as children, when Lien was raised by a wolf pack.

When Cho lays his eyes on her, he immediately falls in love with the mysterious beauty. Lien herself is attracted to the enemy and when Lien is wounded during a battle, Cho runs to her rescue, taking her away from the battlefield. Despite being enemies, they fall in love and promise faith and trust. Caught between opposing sides in a bloody war going, this trust and faith is tested to its utmost limits. Lien and Cho have to not only battle the enemy they love, but also their own inner demons in an attempt to overcome the traditional barriers of their clans.

At its core, "The Bride With White Hair" is a very adult Romeo & Juliet story, with a climax that is simply stunning. Without wanting to give away too much of the story, this film has a surprise ending that you will not find in a standard Hollywood movie. It breaks with all conventions and toys with the viewer’s expectations, leaving you outright dazzled. This is indicative of the rest of this film. Hardly anything is as it seems, and the look, sound, and feel of the movie is very unique, setting it clearly apart from other sword-and-sorcery films. It was director Ronny Yu’s intention from the start of the project that this film look and feel completely different than the rest of the pack; he even employed a Japanese designer for the colorful costumes. Many influences have found their way into the set and costume design, especially the design of the Supreme Cult, resulting in a sea of shimmering cloth and jewelry in an exotic mixture of Chinese, Tibetan, Indian, and Japanese influences.

Director Ronny Yu and his cinematographer Peter Pau have managed to create a captivating, surreal, and poetic atmosphere, one that never feels artificial or invented. Using light to its fullest extent, the film whisks the viewer through beautiful images and captivating settings. The atmospheric lighting, as well as the heavy blue and red tinges used throughout, are typical for Asian movies, yet are utilized completely differently in this film. Every image, every camera angle, and every word has a signature that is singular, and as a whole weave it is a compelling movie experience that you are not likely to forget.

Everything in the film works tightly together to create this enchanting experience: the effective lighting, the set design, the great cast and the tangible characters, the costumes, the heartbreaking story, the editing, the music, everything. Considering that this film had a production time of only 8 weeks, mostly shot on soundstages on the backlots of the Mandarin Film Studios, marks this as an even more remarkable achievement, one that speaks clearly for all the cast and crew’s skills and professionalism. The film won, for good reason, several of the prestigious Hong Kong Film Awards, the counterpart of the American Academy Award.

Leslie Cheung, a mega-star as a singer and actor in his home Hong Kong, creates a believable and multi-dimensional character torn between his love for Lien and loyalty to his clan. His energetic portrayal of the charming, good-natured Cho results in a sympathetic character with depth and charm. He conveys perfectly the emotions Cho is going through, his inner torment, his dislike of violence, his ability to remain atop the situation, and the enduring education as a member of the Wu Tang clan. Still, the most amazing and riveting performance comes from one of Hong Kong’s most respected actresses, the radiant and beautiful Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia. She manages to portray Lien as both a loving, lonely woman and a fierce kung fu warrior who strikes without a second thought. Blending these two characters is not easy, especially in the case of a film that focuses much more on the personal drama and the conflict between the main characters, rather than on the portrayal of Lien as a remorseless killing machine. Her eyes speak more than a thousand words, and director Ronnie Yu uses many extreme close-up shots on the eyes to emphasize the subtle changes in emotion she and Cho pass through in various stages of the film. It is an effective device that can be utilized with only the best actors, those who know how to convey emotion through their eyes only. Don’t be fooled, however; despite all its romance, "The Bride With White Hair" is a furious action film as well. The stunts are meticulously choreographed and working with the precision of a machine. The masterful editing finally lines them up to create some of the most spectacular kung fu scenes in any Fant-Asia movie I have seen.

Tai Seng have once again gone to an great length to clean up the film print used for this transfer and the result is a sharp clean image that shows no signs of wear. The movie is presented in its original 2.35:1 theatrical <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio. Visionary art movies like "The Bride With White Hair" are tough cookies for DVD’s MPEG compression and once again, Tai Seng prove that they are in full charge of the medium. The film’s heavy shadows, as well as the often used-blue and red tinges, have been converted absolutely flawlessly on this release. There is not a hint of <$chroma,chroma noise> or color bleeding to be found even during the most stressing scenes and compression artifacts are at a minimum. It gives a silky, live, and film-like quality to the movie that cannot be found on VHS or the film’s Laserdisc version. It is releases like this one that show how much DVD can actually do for films to enhance the movie experience. Nothing distracts from the actual film, allowing you to fully emerge into this exotic world.

The soundtrack to "The Bride With White Hair" is also worthy of mention. It is an engulfing <$DS,Dolby Surround> track that has been carefully mastered and converted for this DVD release. It is very dynamic and once again, many of the film’s sound effects are exceptional and different, building the perfect aural foundation for this film. The film also boasts a very good music score that weaves in and out with the sound effects to create a tapestry of noises, sounds, and music that goes hand in hand with the images on screen. "The Bride With White Hair" also features a song, written and performed by Leslie Cheung. It was his first musical release after he had left the music industry years before the film to focus on his acting career. It is a sad ballad about his never-ending love that nicely summarizes the emotional depth of the film and brings the film to a touching end.

The film comes fully dubbed in English, Cantonese, and Mandarin and features clean English subtitles. As with Tai Seng’s previous releases, this film automatically defaults to the Cantonese soundtrack with English subtitles turned on, the configuration most lovers of this film will certainly prefer. The disc also contains trailers, extensive cast & crew biographies, and a featurette called "The Making Of The Bride With White Hair", which gives an interesting look behind the scenes of the film. The disc also contains a running-length <$commentary,commentary track> by director Ronny Yu who has quite a bit to say about the film’s production and what his intentions were when he created this movie. Hearing him say these things and seeing how he translated them into visuals is fascinating and entertaining at the same time.

A visionary film like "The Bride With White Hair" easily creates a cult following and also easily becomes the target of copycats. After having seen before how blatantly Hollywood lifts complete scenes from Hong Kong movies to put it in their own creations, it is hardly surprising that a lot of this particular film’s scenes can be found in current American work. I would like to direct your attention to an interesting web page that focuses on a number of such uninspired rip-offs. Click here to see how the television series "Xena" utilized a visionary Hong Kong film to create an image for itself, just as it did with "A Chinese Ghost Story" and countless other Hong Kong films before.

"The Bride With White Hair" is an adult fairy tale that masterfully brings across the heartfelt love story at its core. It is a film about love and hate, faith, trust and betrayal and the way it is told is nothing short of perfect. Every image of the film has been picked and composed very carefully for maximum impact, both visually and emotionally, leaving nothing to be desired. It is clearly one of the best movies made in Hong Kong I have seen. If you still have preconceived notions of bad acting and silly stories or dialogues with Hong Kong movies, this film will put a definite end to it. It is superbly crafted, excellently acted, and gorgeously transferred to DVD. This film is clearly one that belongs in every DVD collection.

Tai Seng also released the sequel to this movie, "The Bride With White Hair 2", on DVD on the same date as the original film. Without going into too much detail, we would like to cover some aspects of this disc here as well. Without a doubt, if you have enjoyed the fist part of the saga, you will not want to miss to see the sequel that picks up 10 years after the first one. It does not spend much time on the character of Cho, instead focusing mainly on Lien. It also follows a group of young, aspiring members of the Wu Tang Clan who once again try to save the clan from extinction. Unfortunately, I cannot go into too much detail about the story here, as it would give away much of the first film’s ending. Bear with us and trust us that this is a worthy sequel to the exceptional first film. While not quite as visionary, it still contains all the elements that made the first film so memorable. Again, the costumes are very well designed and framed by intricate set decorations. Lin Ching Hsia once again helms this movie with her exceptional on-screen presence. It boasts a fantastic photography direction and also introduces more humorous aspects in the main characters, giving the film less of a tragic and adult note. To some extent the story revolves around the same premises, namely love and hate, trust, faith, and betrayal… only this time it affects the younger clan members and Lien. Despite its humor, the story however is no less tragic and when the end credits start rolling, finally everything comes together, also bringing story threads from the first part to a conclusion.

The disc’s quality is just as good as the first one, with a stunning image quality that breathes additional life into the film. No noise or color bleeding and no digital artifacts are on this disc either, and once again, Tai Seng offers fully dubbed versions in English, Cantonese and Mandarin with English subtitles. As I said earlier, if you enjoyed the first film, you definitely want to take a look at "The Bride With White Hair 2", too.