THE WOLF WITCH (aka WHITE-HAIRED WITCH) (2020) short review

Whatever happened to Huang Yi? Not so long ago, she was well on her way to the A-list, with classy supporting roles in upscale productions like Alan Mak and Felix Chong’s Overheard 2 and 3, Derek Chiu’s The Road Less Traveled and Johnnie To’s Romancing in Thin Air and Drug War, not to mention a very promising lead in Herman Yau’s The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake. Now here she is, headlining one of the many straight-to-VOD fantasy cheapies that rehash the main Chinese legends. The Monkey King is by far the most represented in the hundreds of online Chinese fantasy movies last year, but this is at least the third loose adaptation of Liang Yusheng’s wuxia novel 白髮魔女傳 (literally, “The Story of the White Haired Demoness”) in 2020. Nevertheless, Huang is well cast and engaging in the role, though it’s been flattened into a straight heroine role, rather than the nuanced figure of selfless love and destructive fury she was written as, and portrayed by the great Brigitte Lin in Ronny Yu’s superb diptych The Bride with White Hair. Huang doesn’t have Lin’s smoldering bravado in the role, nor Li Bingbing’s mean charisma in Rob Minkoff’s The Forbidden Kingdom, but she easily outshines Fan Bingbing’s turn in Jacob Cheung’s The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom. Director Wu Yingxiang keeps the plot coherent and the pace brisk, much like in his solid Taoist Master earlier in 2020. There’s none of the tragedy and scope of the original story and its best adaptation though, Wu going instead for a fairly routine adventure in which the Wolf Witch must find and expose an evil cult leader committing atrocities while posing as her. At least, action scenes are abundant and passable, their ornate stances and outlandish use of wires calling to mind Ching Siu Tung’s style. **