“The Sorcerer and the White Snake” does what so many fairytale romances–“Twilight” and “Warm Bodies,” to name a few–don’t: it goes big. This 2011 Hong Kong film by Chinese choreographer and action director Ching Siu-Tung a.k.a “Tony Ching,” recounts the story of a demon–actually a white snake with the seductive head and shoulders of a woman (Eva Huang)–who falls in love with a poor herbalist (Raymond Lam), and he with her, after she saves him from drowning and kisses him. Using up much of her power to become a woman, the two become a couple, which encourages Monk Farhai (Jet Li), a sorcerer who has spent his life making sure demons and humans don’t mix, to separate the two lovers.
There’s no clear hero or villain here, which only strengthens this surprisingly moving love story. Lam and Huang both give passionate performances, overcoming Ching’s sometimes overwrought forbidden, star-crossed lovers portrayal. And Li is fantastic as a man so motivated by duty that nothing else matters. And not all is so serious. There is a good amount of goofy physical comedy here, as well. But what will immediately strike you is just how magnificently, unquestionably gorgeous this film is, from the White snake, and her sister Green (Charlene Choi), and enchanted forest creatures to high-flying wire act battles where Li fights bats, foxes, and more, to a scenery that enhances both the fights (arctic ice, bamboo poles that hide demons, a brilliant C.G.I. sequence over water and inside a snakes mouth) and the romance (blue underwater scenes, a lantern festival). “Sorcerer” comes across as nothing less than fantastical visual artistry, but it’s got heart and thrilling amount of action, too.