Ching Se (in the west as Green Snake). Hong Kong,1993
Directed by Tsui Hark
This film is based on the old Chinese legend of “Madame White Snake,” or rather it’s based on a novel that was based on the legend, which is no surprise since it’s a popular story and there have been many interpretations over the years, including a Peking Opera. Two snake spirits (also sometimes referred to as snake demons) named White Snake and Green Snake decide that they want to be human, and transform themselves accordingly into two beautiful sisters and attempt to live in the human world. White Snake is the older of the two, and her spiritual power is greater than Green Snake’s, who sometimes can’t control her snakey impulses and tends to revert to her snake form at very inconvenient moments. You may recognize the basic plot from my earlier review of The Devil Wives of Li Fong by E. Hoffman Price, which is based on the same story.
White Snake soon attracts the attention of the scholar Xian Xu and becomes his wife, complicated by the fact that Xian Xu is deathly afraid of snakes and, as noted above, White Snake can keep her human guise well, but Green Snake can’t always keep her snake impulses under control. Aside from Green Snake’s occasional indiscretions, their attempts to be fully human are complicated by the fact that the sisters have also attracted the rather unwelcome attentions of two other men. One is a Taoist priest who of course recognizes their true nature and attempts on multiple occasions to destroy them. This is played mostly for comedy since he’s nowhere near their level on the power scale. The other one is a Buddhist monk named Fahai and he’s the real threat. The only thing that saves the sisters initially is that he sees them working for good purposes, like using their magic to save their village from a flood. He is both unsure of how to proceed and also—though he is in deep, deep denial—attracted to Green Snake. Continue reading