Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
August 2, 2015 by Dennis Amith
“Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal” is a gorgeous, visual fantasy film with an enchanting story. The film has its problematic CG moments but it’s a unique tale which is made even more appealing due to its integration with Chinese elements. Recommended!
TITLE: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal
FILM RELEASE: 2015
DURATION: 118 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 16:9, Mandarin 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Subtitles: English
COMPANY: Well Go USA Entertainment
Release Date: August 4, 2015
Directed by Peter Pau, Tianyu Zhao
Written by Junli Guo, Raymond Lei Jin, Huanhuan Zhang
Executive Producer: Xiaofen An
Producer: Peter Pau
Associate Producer: Patrick Ho, Derek Huang
Music by Javier Navarrete
Cinematography by Peter Pau
Edited by David Wu
Production Design by Kenneth Mak
Costume Design by Shirley Chan
Winston Chao as Deity Zhang Daoxian
Kun Chen as Zhong Kui
Bingbing Li as Xueqing (Little Snow)
Directed by Academy Award Winner, Peter Pau, Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal is a big budget (30M US) romantic fantasy adventure about the legendary hero Zhong Kui, a fabled warrior with mysterious powers who is forced to conquer the realms of Heaven and Hell to save his people and the woman he loves.
While Hollywood action films often cost many millions of dollars to make, in 2015, China would kick off the year with their own big budget 3D fantasy adventure titled “Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal”.
With a budget of $30 million, the film would be directed by well-known cinematographer Peter Pau (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, “The forbidden Kingdom”, “The Killer”) and writer/director Tianyu Zhao (“The Law of Attraction”, “Shuang shi ji”).
The film would star Winston Chau (“The Wedding Banquet”, “Eat Drink Man Woman”, “1911”), Kun Chen (“Flying Swords of Dragon Gate”, “Painted Skin” films), Bingbing Li (“Transformers: Age of Extinction”, “Resident Evil: Retribution”, “Detective Dee: Mystery of the Phantom Plane”) and many more.
And now “Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment.
The film introduces us to three realms, deities of heaven, demons of hell and the human world (City of Hu). Once every millennium, demons will make their way on Earth and Deity Zhang Daoxian (portrayed by Winston Chao) asks the others who will be brave to protect the humans?
The demons begin their murderous rampage, killing humans in the City of Hu.
Meanwhile, in hell, to stop the demons, the deity sends a brave demon hunter named Zhong Kui to steal the Dark Crystal (a crystal that holds the spirits of those from the City of Hu), which would give life to the demons. Zhong Kui succeeds and brings the Dark Crystal to Zhang Daoxian, and the hopes are to prevent the demons in retrieving the crystal in order to bring eternal peace from demons in the City of Hu.
While the demons of hell are wondering how anyone could infiltrate their lair. Wanting to retrieve the Dark Crystal, the Demon King sends out Snow Girl (portrayed by Li Bingbing).
Knowing that the demons will come after the Dark Crystal, they must protect it for seven days, as it may be the only way to protect the City of Hu.
So, in order to protect the city, the Deity gives Zhong Kui the power of the huge demon using a mystical fan and orders that he must fight the demons within, in order to control himself after transformation.
Meanwhile, in the City of Hu, Snow Girl and other demons (sporting a human disguise as dancers) prepare their plan to suck the soul of the City of Hu but also retrieve the Dark Crystal and bring it back to hell.
For Zhong Kui, he is shocked to see Snow Girl many years later (it is revealed through flashbacks that both Zhong Kui and Snow Girl were in love. But he is unaware that she is a demon, and as he is a demon killer, she left him and disappeared. Leaving him in anguish over her disappearance.) but she behaves as she does not know him.
Will Zhong Kui be able to protect the Dark Crystal for seven days from Snow Crystal and the demons?
“Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal” is presented in 1080p High Definition and presented in 2:39:1 aspect ratio. Picture quality is fantastic as closeups show amazing detail when it comes to skin, Zhong Kui’s beard to the vibrancy of the visual effects and also the beauty of the matte background artwork.
While the production design is gorgeous in trying to showcase the three different realms and for the most part, the visual effects do work amazingly well for scenery, but the film does suffer from CG elements that don’t seem to work at times. Zhong Kui in demon form seems to video game-like at times and movements are not as fluid.
But still, to achieve a big-budget film, in terms of costume design and production design, the film looks amazing. But if you have been spoiled with CG with modern video games or films, some may feel the CG elements when it comes to Zhong Kui in demon form or Snow Girl in ice demon form feels older or not as developed.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal” is presented in Mandarin 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and dialogue and music are crystal clear. As one can expect from a sci-fi epic with plenty of action, the lossless soundtrack is well-done as the action sequences are well-utilized through the surround channels and good use of LFE during those action-intense scenes.
“Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal” comes with the following special features:
- The Music Journey – (5:28) The making of the music for “Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal” showcasing Spanish composer Javier Navarrete and the musicians creating the music for the film.
- Visual Effects – (9:54) Director Peter Pau discusses the importance of visual effects for the film and bringing a high level of artistic and technical creativity to the film. And going with MACROGRAPH in Korea and Pixomondo to create the film.
- Trailer – Theatrical trailer for “Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal”.
“Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal” is a fantastic endeavor to see a 3D and CG-driven film from China.
For those of us who grew up with fantasy/adventure Chinese films, the films were typically driven by costume and production design, and while “Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal” continues that theme with impressive costume and production design and achieving the look and feel of the three realms. While expensive at $30 million, compared to other films that were shot with more money and had more time, there was no doubt that the crew had to face artistic and technical challenges in the creation of the film.
The visuals are impressive but the storyline of a demon hunter who must protect a Dark Crystal in order to protect humans but must use demon power to defeat demons, comes head-on with a major difficulty when he finds out that the person responsible of trying to retrieve the Dark Crystal is his former, long-lost love, Snow Girl. But even worst, to find out that she is not human, but a demon.
So, the conundrum is setup for demon hunter Zhong who is conflicted with his emotions and his duty.
What is impressive for me is to see this visual style, unlike American or European fantasy/adventure films, the Chinese elements are what makes this film so visually appealing and different from other films in the same genre.
You are won over by the beauty of production sets, visual effects and costume design along with martial-arts choreography, but along with the good, there is also bad.
Bad in the fact that if you have been spoiled by today’s modern video games or big budget action films, the visual effects of Zhong as a demon or Snow Girl in demon form (all in ice), looks appropriate for something developed in the 2000’s, rather than something created recently. The movements are not smooth, and the over-focus on the demon forms, especially late in the film, feels like you are watching a CG demo reel that was not fully completed. I’m sure more money and more time probably could have fixed this, but money and time was not a luxury for the directors of the film.
Also, there are some scenes that feel as if they were inspired by Iron Man or The Hulk (in rampage mode). While I see some may feel the homage (whether intentional or unintentional) is cool to see, it does seem out of place for the film.
As for the Blu-ray, the picture quality is simply amazing. The scenery looks amazing and the visual effects to create more of the mesmerizing power of the character is done rather well. Closeups show great attention to detail and the lossless audio presented in Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio showcases crystal clear dialogue, music and sound effects which are immersive. As for special features, they showcase the more foreign aspect of the film, which is utilizing a Spanish composer and musicians. And for its visual effects team, showcasing the Korean staff and also visual effects professionals who worked on Hollywood’s big budget films.
While I am surprised that this expensive film was given to Peter Pau, best known for his cinematography work, in some ways it does make sense in the fact that the visual aspects of the film are dominant. In many ways, Pau succeeded in the creation of this CG epic but at the same time, I felt visual effects technology helped but also hindered the film.
Overall, “Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal” is a gorgeous, visual fantasy film with an enchanting story. The film has its problematic CG moments but it’s a unique tale which is made even more appealing due to its integration with Chinese elements.
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