||Sort of a Chinese Romeo and Juliet had those two diehard romantics been pressured to kill one another, The Bride with White Hair was a major hit in Asia, and Hong Kong especially, its territory of origin starting to examine its upcoming Chinese identity - or otherwise - as 1997 loomed and the prospect of Britain's handover of the place to the mainland pressing on many minds there. This resulted in a lot of soul-searching in the culture, after all Hong Kong had been the seat of an East Asian entertainment industry for decades, only rivalled by Hollywood or Bollywood in its reach.
Fair enough, other small countries had a cinematic influence outweighed by their population numbers: Italy, Britain or Japan, for instance, but from the nineteen-fifties to the early nineties, fans of Hong Kong movies grew in leaps and bounds internationally, with Hollywood beginning to poach their best directors to try and translate that visual mastery of action to the blockbuster industry. The director of his item was Ronny Yu, and he would start out more promisingly than most in America with a property that didn't sound very promising at all: the slasher sequel Bride of Chucky.
While that was a career high point, thereafter he started to flounder, and crucially overseas he never directed anything as swooningly romantic as The Bride with White Hair that combined the traditional wuxia movies of his youth with the Western influences that resulted in what he described as a tribute to cult favourite efforts like Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula, Michael Mann's Last of the Mohicans and Ridley Scott's The Duellists. Discovering what he was aiming for only increased the appeal of the film, as you tried to discern what was bred by what and for whom.
Yu was blessed with two of Hong Kong's biggest stars for his, er, star-crossed lovers in the shape of Brigitte Lin and Leslie Cheung, who though they were getting slightly past their prime by this stage - Lin would retire the following year once forty, and Cheung tragically was headed for suicide - remained two of the most charismatic and photogenic performers around, not merely in Hong Kong, but in anything that called itself an action movie. Here they made an attractive couple, but as the rivalry between their clans breaks them up, they begin to break down, and tragedy inexorably beckons.
This was a fantasy story as well as a martial arts piece, and there were elements that harked to Yu's background in horror movies as well; though he reputedly reined himself in with the gore, all the better to reach a wider audience, it was still too extreme for many, and in Britain the BBFC landed it with an 18 certificate which seems over the top now for such an obviously fantastical arrangement. Maybe one problem was with the villains who Lin's wolf girl warrior works for: a pair of conjoined twins (Francis Ng and Elaine Liu) who wallowed in incestuous perversity and black magic to get the upper hand on their great enemies, a band of soldiers adhering to a strict moral code.
The twins were like nothing in the West, not even in its plethora of horror, but in The Bride with White Hair was proudly proclaiming its Chinese origins in a manner that did not quite embrace them. Sure, you could regard Lin as the Chinese mainland girl and Cheung as the Hong Kong boy who are irresistibly attracted despite all the differences between them, but the question of whether we should welcome their romance or fear it was left strangely ambiguous, as these circumstances were the source of so much heartache. And not only that, but bloodshed as well, the warriors dropped like flies in this, largely thanks to the wolf girl and her seemingly unbeatable ability with her weapons of a slicing whip and a sword to contend with.
Yu, working on a lower budget than his Hollywood excursions, nevertheless conjured up a movie that looked one of the best of the nineties, and not solely from Hong Kong, either. Come 1997, the industry there didn't fall apart, but it was bolstered by the Chinese government which expected them to toe the party line, and that rebel glamour and pizazz so attractive to the world's film buffs dissipated into bloated blockbusters with a production line feel. This left The Bride with White Hair and selected other nineties Hong Kong productions feeling like a last hurrah before the shutters came down on a wild party, and in retrospect that has only raised their stature. You would not get many action flicks looking like this one in the aftermath of the handover, both perfectly of its time and place, and something to lament that time was over. Here was a film embedded in its culture and questioning it in a way that would become unfashionable in the following century, but don't dismiss it as a relic, watching it, it pulsed with life and sadness.
[Eureka release this on a high quality Blu-ray with the following features:
Limited Edition O-Card slipcase featuring new artwork by Darren Wheeling [First Print Run of 2000 units only]
1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a stunning new 4K restoration (this restoration has been newly colour graded exclusively by Eureka Entertainment and officially approved by director Ronny Yu)
Cantonese audio, available in original stereo and restored 5.1 presentations
Optional English and Mandarin audio tracks
Newly translated English subtitles
Brand new feature length audio commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng (NY Asian Film Festival)
Audio commentary with director Ronny Yu
Brand new interview with director Ronny Yu [41 mins]
Brand new interview with actor Joe Tay [21 mins]
Brand new interview with screenwriter Jason Lam Kee To [56 mins]
Brand new interview with composer Richard Yuen [24 mins]
Brand new interview with editor David Wu [81 mins]
Archival "making of" featurette
Limited Edition collector's booklet featuring new writing by James Oliver [2000 copies ONLY].]