If you're expecting a remake of The Bride With White Hair, prepare to be at least perturbed. TWHWOLK takes some of the elements, but what results differs so much that it may be considered a loose adaptation at best.
Reviewer Score: 7
The similarities feel almost trivial. The lead character's hair dramatically turns white, though just why this happens is never explained. The love story is a major thread, and the lovers are sometimes working in opposition. Both are wu'xia, so there are plenty of characters who can fly and fight at the same time.
But everything else is different. Tsui Hark is credited as a consultant, and many of his famous motifs are tossed into the mix. The shadow of his great CGS trilogy looms large, as does Green Snake (where Vincent Zhao also played a villain, as he does here).
Fan Bingbing is of course ravishing. But as the outright top-billed star, her part feels surprisingly small. If anything, the male lead Huang Xiao-Ming is onscreen more than FBB. Although the comparisons are clearly unfair, FBB lacks the raw power of Brigitte Lin, and is nowhere near Joey Wong's ethereal beauty.
FBB plays The Witch as rather a sweetie with reluctant nasty streak. Her rage looks manufactured when it competes with her peachy pleading visage, and this distracts from the intended effect.
TWHWOLK seems to dwell far more on the military battles than The Bride did, though I think this works in the former's favour, and makes more sense of what happens than did The Bride.
These reservations notwithstanding, TWHWOLK is highly entertaining and, in my opinion, a better movie than The Bride. The film looks fantastic, and makes fairly decent use of 3D without being exceptional (e.g. compared with Donnie Yen's Monkey King or Tsui Hark's Detective Dee movies). The colour and movement are gorgeous.
Slow scenes are blessedly short. Even the long and lingering loving looks between the two leads aren't stretched out too long. Gotta love the sensibility of Chinese audiences. They just won't sit still long enough for anything to go on too long without some action or laughs.
There's action aplenty, and it starts from the very opening, which is one of the many highlights. A collection of robed fu experts, in opposing teams of black versus white, stand on the flat top of a half-sphere of rock, precariously balanced on a rock spire high above a river. Black and white compete to throw each other into the river while maintaining balance, for the amusement of a crowd on the river bank. Wonderful stuff, superbly choreographed by Steven Tung with added fluidity courtesy of convincing CGI.
The action scenes are filled with sharp weapons whizzing past in near-misses that are balletic and poetic, and are pure pleasure to behold.
I feel a little mean only giving this one 7/10, but I think 8/10 would be a bit too much. Nevertheless, highly entertaining and strongly recommended.