I have just finished watching 36 episodes of The Legend of White Snake (2019) that totaled up to 27 hours of TV entertainment. The first post – which is this one – is a review, with no spoiler. If you are interested to read my thoughts on its ending, click here instead.
I have grown up watching White Snake in a Chinese opera house in Hong Kong decades ago. My dad was used to work in a theater. I was very small. I could hardly remember the story despite the fact that I must have watched it numerous times thanks to free family tickets. I remember the opera version of White Snake as a tragic fantasy love story. But I don’t remember the specifics.
Fast forward to 2020, I have zero expectation on this modern adaptation of a story about love and obsession. I am more used to Korean drama – short-and-sweet (16-ish episodes) and more often than not, a happy ending that is heartwarming. Watching Chinese drama (or reading Chinese books) can be a roller-coaster experience. Any character – whether he or she is good or bad, whom you love or don’t – can die in any episode. It is full of deception, betrayal, poison and prison, sacrifice, and more sacrifice. White Snake 2019 is no exception.
Plot-wise, there are plenty of twists. At times I wonder, how many times can the same person be poisoned or put into yet another life-and-death situation that requires yet another hard decision to be made, which on top of all that, leads to misunderstanding and more misunderstanding that will take a few episodes down the road to resolve. If you are looking for character development, White Snake 2019 has plenty. If you are looking for extraordinary plot twists, White Snake 2019 has plenty.
The Main Cast
I am not going to lie. Whenever Ju Jingyi (who plays Bai Suzhen a.k.a. White Snake) appears on the screen, the story literally lights up. Chinese fans dubbed her as ‘once in 4,000 years idol’ (she must have some really hardcore fans in China). Japanese media somehow translated that to be ‘once in 4,000 years beauty’. That branded her as the most beautiful woman in China, ever.
I like Ju Jingyi’s acting in White Snake 2019. Or rather, the character that she plays has offered her the opportunity to express a wide spectrum of emotions – innocence, smart, playful, joyful, thoughtful, falling in love, anger and rage, despair, determination, stubbornness, empathy and sympathy, sadness, and content. The acting is natural to watch, hence convincing.
I must say, with a few exceptions, the video clips without her in it feels longer to watch.
I also found Xiao Yan who plays Xiaoqing a.k.a. Green Snake a delightful watch. She can be reckless, has terrible manner, but super faithful to Suzhen making her a superb support character.
I have nothing against Yu Menglong (Xu Xian the Physician). His character does get more interesting passing the midway point. It is pretty hard to match up against Ju Jingyi – in my opinion. The chemistry perhaps could have been better. At times I wonder, what attracts Suzhen to fall in love with Xu Xian?
Out of the three categories, cinematic is something I can often overlook if the plot and cast are great. Compared to say, The King also produced in recent time, White Snake 2019 pale in comparison.
It is hard to describe. But it seems like the brightness has been boosted while contrast is lost. At times, the character’s face may look too ‘flat’ losing that 3D effect (all white without contrast). The color vibrancy is not there, contrast at times is not there, and CGI is so-so (still better than other Chinese dramas I have briefly watched lately).
I am entertained and happy that a classic story has been remade into a modern adaptation. I am fortunate that I don’t have any expectations for this remake. Because the only version I could compare this against would be the Chinese opera I have watched decades ago. Any adaptation would have beaten that.