[director Tsui Hark]
Cast: Joey Wong Cho-Yin, Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk, Chiu Man-Cheuk
This film, which Tsui Hark directed himself, is about a pair of lovely young women who are actually snakes in disguise. They prowl around a city looking for men to seduce so that they can give birth and, in doing so, become human. But a righteous monk trys to stop them. Even as his lust is awakened by the impulsive Green Snake, he tries to wrestle the virtuous White Snake’s human husband away from her, not realizing until too late that he is committing “fault after merit.”
Lots of people dislike this one, but I find it very endearing. Hark uses tremendous set design and a variety of wonderfully cheesy special effects to create a world out of Chinese folklore, replete with flying people, anamorphic animals, magic cranes (which Hark later borrowed from himself to produce Magic Crane), and beautiful women and their manor houses, both of which are not what they seem. The tone is so innocent throughout that the ending is kind of a shock. It seemed like a pastoral kind of sex farce until the monk’s temple drops on Joey Wong.
Maggie Cheung is excellent as Green Snake. Zhao Wen-Zhuo is the righteous monk, and plays the part with his usual focus and energy. Joey Wong could probably have identified herself by this point as Tsui Hark’s “can-do” actress, depended on to play just about any role. And indeed she was saddled with a variety of thankless jobs under Hong Kong’s leading iconoclast moviemaker, from the thankless role of hospital worker/witness to carnage in The Big Heat to the thankless role of the mistress in Deception to the iconic role of Cici in A Chinese Ghost Story (a role that would typecast her for her entire career) back to the thankless role of Brigitte Lin’s lover/punching bag in Swordsman III: The East is Red. Here she is great, and very different from her beautiful ghost roles in countless ghost story movies. Wu Xing-Guo, who plays Wong’s husband, has a little too much screen-time for such a milquetoast of a character. He is a mainlander who did three movies that year, Green Snake, Rock N’Roll Cop, and What Price Survival?, before dropping below radar.