Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal Movie Review
Written by Angry Scholar
Released by Well Go USA
Directed by Peter Pau and Tianyu Zhao
Written by Junli Guo, Ray Lei Jin and Huanhuan Zhang
2015, 118 minutes, Not Rated
Blu-ray | DVD released on August 4th, 2015
Chen Kun as Zhong Kui
Li Bingbing as Snow Girl
Winston Chao as Zhang
Zhong Kui serves the god Zhang, the protector of the city of Hu. Hu is in danger from invading demons, so Zhang sends Zhong Kui into hell to steal the Dark Crystal, an artifact with, initially unknown (but presumably badass) powers. Evidently the Crystal will help the people of Hu endure the demonic onslaught, so, you know. Go team!
Despite the seeming victory, though, the city is soon threatened again when the demons sneak in disguised as a troupe of beautiful dancing women. Fortunately, Hu has a god in its corner, and Zhang gives Zhong Kui the power to transform into a big, poorly-animated, God of War-style demon, because of course he does. Unfortunately the leader of the dancing demons is none other than Snow Girl, the most beautifulest of them all and, as luck would have it, a former paramour of Zhong Kui.
If you guessed that the hero has to fight his erstwhile lover, discovering something about himself in the process, you would be correct. If you thought a core cast of excellent actors, some beautiful scenery and costumes, and the incredibly rich backdrop of Chinese mythology would automatically translate into a good movie—well, unfortunately that’s just not true, at least not in this case.
The biggest issue is the excessive use of incredibly poor computer animation. Zhong Kui’s demon form is hilariously awful, a shitty rendering of the actor’s puffy-bearded face on top of a scaly body with, like, magma running through it? Huge scenes (set primarily in hell) are entirely green-screened, which isn’t necessarily bad, but in this case does little to help the sense that the film was phoned in. There are some neat particle effects (the blue twisty demon-light of the eponymous Dark Crystal is cool), but for the most part it looks like a bargain-bin PlayStation action game by a developer with a name that sounds like a real studio but is just, like, one or two letters off (HEY KIDS! Try this super great best game by Cupcom, makers of Mego-Man!).
Another problem is the considerable knowledge of classical Chinese mythology you’ll need to make sense of what’s going on. If you have a passing familiarity with Chinese Buddhism and Taoism, you’ll do okay; a dash of dynastic history (which I personally lack) will help even more. While it’s nothing that can’t be solved with a quick Google search, Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal does expect its audience to understand the basics of, for example, Buddhist cosmology, conceptions of karma and reincarnation, and Chinese folklore. Zhong Kui himself, the protagonist, is a real figure from Chinese folklore, and knowing something of his story—which I didn’t, but thank goodness for Wikipedia—will help to make a little more sense of the beautiful, sparkly confetti that is this movie’s messy, messy plot.
Having said all that, the film has a core group of beautiful people acting beautifully in a very stylized, stereotypically Chinese-cinema way, sword-fighting and turning into demons and such. (To give you some sense of what I mean, Snow Girl is co-directed by Peter Pau, who banked an Oscar for his work as cinematographer on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.) So, there’s that. Sadly there’s just not much else.