The Bride With White Hair 2 (1993)
Directed by: David Wu
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Bitter and enraged after the betrayal by her lover Cho Yi Hang (Leslie Cheung), former Wolf Woman turned White Haired Witch, Lien Ni Chang (Brigitte Lin) plans more strongly than ever to wipe out the clans of the martial arts world. The remaining young members of those clans has to make an ultimate stand and fight back when Fung Chun Kit's (Sunny Chan - Hold Me Tight, Comeuppance) wife Lyre (Joey Man) is kidnapped by Lien. Meanwhile at Mountain Shin Fung, Cho Yi Hang waits for a flower to bloom. The flower possessing powers to transform Lien back to her original form...
You feel the smell of cheap follow-up and cash in? The stench is definitely present and conspiracy theories warranted. Case in point, this sequel to The Bride With White Hair, the new-wave Wuxia and bona fide masterpiece on every imaginable level debuted in theatres in the Christmas of 1993, a mere 3 months after the first had ended its cinema run! Helmer of that film, Ronny Yu (Fearless) handed over directing duties OFFICIALLY to frequent editing collaborator David Wu (1*) but UNOFFICIALLY, Yu was co-directing alongside Wu. As is sometimes the case though, that cramped directing chair means troubled production but here the dual directors equals a rush to finish the film, neglecting most of what made The Bride With White Hair so special in the first place.
Having read extracts from reviews before doing my take on the subject, I got the sense that David Wu, Ronny Yu and Raymond To had constructed an overly complicated and wild plot akin to the Wuxia storytelling tradition but watching The Bride With White Hair 2 (aka The White-Haired Swordswoman II, which is what's on the print on Tartan's dvd), the plot is very linear and criminally simple even for an 80 minute film. Simple template can mean good things but here Wu and company construct very little around the running time, making it drag at points. The whole production does indeed have the stench of quick and therefore quick writing, casting and filmmaking is employed, starting with the group of youths from the eight clans that take on Brigitte Lin's White Haired Witch. There is an interesting exploration here touched upon but never fully explored as at one point at their lowest, the various young characters start to express doubts about the point of all these power struggles and vengeance plots within their world. Still, that's as interesting as it gets and despite not bogging the narrative with the normally deadly sin in a straight narrative, comedy, David Wu injects little to none interest into the main concerns of the film.
Which leads to the main fault of the film as we get extremely little time spent with Brigtte Lin AND Leslie Cheung's characters from the first film. Connections are made via flashbacks and some short new footage between the two but by pushing this brewing conflict and thoroughly compelling, tragic love story to the side, The Bride With White Hair 2 suddenly has nothing to offer up for it to transform into valid cinema. It really was a focal point of the first film that still ranks as haunting and memorable so the biggest tragedy is to see it exploited/neglected by some of the same people. On the plus side, when focus IS on Lien Ni Chang and Cho Yi Hang, we're reminded of the fact that it wasn't too long ago Ronny Yu brought forth the spellbinding magic between Lin and Cheung. Too little, too late.
Reserved in its scope by going back to the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, it very much looks like sets were re-used and re-dressed for this sequel but as cheap as it may seem and even with cinematographer Peter Pau not available for this round, veteran Joe Chan certainly makes the most of the tools at his disposal. This display of the jiang hu world is again, as per the first film, a dimly lit, dark place, far removed from any stage-like gloss we also encounter within the genre. Especially the scenes at Lien Ni Chang's lair are very hypnotic in their design and various scenarios played out there, especially the re-birth of Joey Meng's Lyre is mesmerizing and strangely erotic. Speaking of that scene, the conversion, you could dedicate a paragraph to analyze the parallels of The Evil Sect and their feminist goals with extreme feminism of today but I'll leave it up to each viewer to find out if it's an undercurrent worth pondering.
Action director Phillip Kwok returns and surprisingly (I.e. in a welcome way) keeps his action very ground based. Unfortunately it also looks like as if he was also under time constraints because other than some creative gore and the usage again of Brigitte Lin's hair as a poisonous weapon, one would be hard pressed to think of any creativity inherited in this part of the production. Also reprised from the first film is the step printing process to the film speed which creates a blurry slow-motion that is rarely welcome in the action. It's been used to fine effect for dramatic purposes, even a few times by director Wu here, but I think we can all agree on wanting to see what's going on, clearly.
Biggest and one of the only pro's of The Bride With White Hair 2 is expectedly Brigitte Lin who does seem to go on autopilot sans Leslie Cheung by her side but the intensity of her plight now fueled by bitterness generates once again her immortal, hypnotic screen presence. Then through flashbacks and her eventual encounter with Cho Yi Hang, she stirs her own and our emotions once again to excellent effect. Even if it's only for like 3% of the film, it's worth taking hits along the way just to get to the Lin goodness. Remaining performers make little imprints in the film but special mention goes to otherwise Category III actress Lily Chung (2*) who chews scenery well in her supporting role as one of the followers of Lien Ni Chang.
They should feel shame for basically bringing in a dark cloud over a genuine Hong Kong cinema Wuxia classic but David Wu and Ronny Yu apparently never thought twice about it. Trying to re-capture the magic through performers not in the league of Leslie Cheung and Brigitte Lin, the creators close their eyes and hope for the best. The best appears very late and for a very short amount of time. Before that, viewers will have a hard time connecting emotionally and soon also, not wanting to anyway. A shame but at least the package looks good, especially Brigitte Lin. But boy oh boy is she too good for this standard of filmmaking. Even Ronny Yu at this point kind of is but no one brought that up at the meeting.
Tartan presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.71:1 approximately. Soft and fairly muddled, colours and lack of wear can work in favour of the transfer but it feels no better than a cheap Hong Kong dvd import.
The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 track presents no problems and sounds clear. The first film was actually mixed in Dolby but not this sequel. Which is also a bit of a shame as these visuals are pitch-perfect for the expanded soundstage. Keep the 5.1 remix people working on Hong Kong dvd's far away though, please. An English 2.0 dub is also included.
The optional English subtitles are free of errors and very easy to follow.
Some small extras appear, starting with selected filmographies for David Wu, Ronny Yu and Brigitte Lin. Jeremy Clarke Film Notes (6 pages) goes over David Wu's multi-faceted career and also offers up an honest defense of The Bride With White Hair 2. Also included are trailers from other sections of Tartan's Asia dvd line (Hard Boiled, Audition, Ring and Ring 2).
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson
(1) An editor, composer and actor otherwise, assorted credits across those various gigs includes Once A Black Sheep, Coolie Killer, A Chinese Ghost Story, The Killer, Fatal Termination, Peking Opera Blues, Shogun And Little Kitchen and Hard Boiled.
(2) Lily was very much a poster girl for the golden years of Category III rated cinema, giving us largely excellent performances in Daughter Of Darkness, Brother Of Darkness but more importantly in Billy Tang's unforgettable Red To Kill. A performance worthy of an acting award but the genre was often considered a bit out there. Especially so when you're acting and appearing nude in the same film. Shame... not about the acting and nudity.