When I first heard of The White Dragon I thought that it sounded like a kung fu comedy with a thick coat of House of Flying Daggers paint. It's filled with wire harnessed battles and takes place in a mythical China where warriors fly and have magical abilities. You've got a blind assassin, a do-gooder trying to hunt him down and an overbearing predictable love plot. It's nothing that Asian cinema hasn't seen before and it will most likely remind you of something that you may have seen in the past. The White Dragon may be fairly short on originality and focus, but it proves to be a fun; yet flawed, trip through beautiful trappings.
The film starts off trying to be a kooky comedy with a lot of modern references and lame jokes. At one point one character buys a soft bun from McD's to get a happy meal toy chicken while another pits a character playing a musical turn table and jamming out in a scene that ends with a guitar smashing. The gags are pretty funny, but they are really out of place considering the tone for the rest of the film. Eventually the humor fades away and the movie tries to take time to tell a love story, instead of trying to make you laugh. The tale is fine and the acting suits the picture, but this change of style left me bewildered and gave the impression that director Wilson Yip had a change of heart halfway through production.
The two main characters are wonderfully portrayed by Cecilia Cheung and Francis Ng. Both actors have starred in a staggering amount of films and quite frankly carry this otherwise dull tale. There is an immediate chemistry from the time that the two characters encounter each other and it only gets better as the movie progresses. Ng in particular is endearing as the blind assassin with a tragic past and hopeful future, while Cheung plays a vain character who is more concerned about her looks and marrying a prince than anything else.
The White Dragon starts off with a narrative by Phoenix Black (Cheung) who also happens to be a warrior known as White Dragon. She's playing the flute and along comes a blind warrior called Chicken Feathers (Ng), so the two duke it out for a bit. It's then that we are given a flashback to a point seven days in the past and are introduced to Phoenix's character. She's a beautiful, self-centered woman who is going to school, yet finds the time to surround herself with ugly friends to get most of the attention. She's very fashion oriented and has to have the best purse that money can buy, so naturally she wants to find a rich guy. When she hears that the Second Prince is coming to school she breaks out the musical skill by being a one-woman band and eventually falls into his arms.
That night Chicken Feathers enters the school grounds and assassinates the principle. Afterwards his escape route is blocked by an elderly white robed woman and the two have a flashy sword fight that ends with the old lady falling through a roof. She lands in Phoenix's room and transfers her mystical powers to her via a broadband connection and download bar (don't ask). Now Phoenix must take over in her place as the White Dragon and hunt down Chicken Feathers to get revenge. Unfortunately for her she winds up losing the fight, but the outcome isn't quite what she had in mind.
I'm not going to spoil the ending for anybody that is interested in seeing the film, but chances are if you use that noggin of yours, you can figure it out. In the end it's not that The White Dragon is a bad movie; in fact I enjoyed it a lot. However the pacing is off, the humor clashes with a semi-serious tone, and there are a few plot holes that are worthy of a head scratch. Fans of wire-fu and lighthearted Asian cinema will gobble the movie up while avid viewers may want to consider a rental instead of a purchase.
Originally produced in 2004, The White Dragon is presented with a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The image quality is very good with vibrant colors, clean visuals and a sharp picture. The lavish costumes really come alive thanks to the transfer and the use of color reminds me of Hero, even though it's not quite that bold. The picture suffers from some minor amounts of edge enhancement, a few points of grain and scenes where the video appears a little soft. Overall it's a great looking film that may not be as breathtaking as some of the better known epics, but it does just fine for itself.
There are three 5.1 Dolby Digital offerings on this disc and each suits your needs just fine depending what poison you want to pick. I personally when for the original Chinese language track because I'm a sucker for the native content. The quality was very good though at times the track was a tad subdued. There was a fair amount of directionality and the rear channels kicked in at many of the right moments, but for the most part I found everything to remain on the front soundstage. The English dub is decent enough as well with comparable quality if you'd prefer to listen to that one instead. There are optional English, French, Portuguese and Spanish subtitles on the disc as well.
There are a few previews for some other Sony Pictures projects, but aside from those there's really nothing else on the disc to call an "extra".
Fans of tales from mythical China will love to have a quirky and often charming inclusion into the genre. The humor in The White Dragon is very good and translates well with a lot of modern references and some intelligent dialogue. Unfortunately the movie bounces back and forth between jokes and a more serious story. This leaves the film feeling oddly paced and slightly unorganized, especially around the halfway point. I'm going to recommend the film for fans of Asian cinema but suggest a rental for anyone who is only an avid viewer.
Check out more of my reviews here. Head on over to my anime blog as well for random musings and reviews of anime, manga, and stuff from Japan!