Classic Chinese Stories: Madame Whitesnake
Madame White Snake
The story of the White Snake is one of the most popular Chinese classical novels and has been retold in many forms over the centuries, including tv series, Beijing opera, and hopefully, in 2011 a new film starring Jet Li!
In its original (oral) form, the story was a horror story. Interestingly this has been retained in the Japanese version of the story, Jasei no in, which is one of the stories in the collection entitled, Ugetsu Monogatari. The first Chinese written version of the story seems to have been in a collection of folk stories during the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) by popular author Feng Menglong (1574 - 1645).
In the later versions of the Chinese original, the story became a romance. The story is of a 1000 year old white snake demon who has been aspiring and training to become a goddess. A young scholar falls in love with her but unfortunately the course of their love does not run untroubled as there is a zealot priest who is determined to kill the white snake demon.
After an initial encounter with the priest Fa Hai, who is determined to kill demons of every description, Madame White Snake and her companion, a green snake demon take refuge in Banbuduo which is a world / plane of existence between the human world and the other worlds. It is not the demon realm but is inhabited by beings from various realms.
The priest is very powerful and tracks White Snake to Babanduo. Madame White Snake sacrifices her chance to become a goddess in order to send the scholar back to safety in the human world. The passage back to the human world entails forgetting all that has happened in Babanduo and although White Snake gives the scholar a way to retain his memory, and thus his love for her, the priest cruelly tricks him and he forgets everything about Madame White snake and his time in Babanduo.
Eventually the priest succeeds in trapping the White Snake under Leifeng Pagoda which is a real place and is on West Lake near Hangzhou in China. The current building is a rebuilt version of the original which collapsed as so many people thought the bricks had healing powers that over the years a lot of them disappeared!
Whether or not the story is a tragic romance or a romance depends on the ending you 'choose'. Different versions of the story have different endings. One version is that Xu Xian and Madame Whitesnake have a son who eventually challenges Fa Hai and frees his mother from underneath the pagoda.
The Jet Li film
I am really looking forward to the film! I think it will be released at the end of September 2011 / early October! Watch the trailer!
The Jet Li film
Update 2012 Huge Disappointment!
Did the film ever get to the UK? I found it and watched it online and what a huge disappointment. I suppose in making Jet Li the star the director had to make Fa Hai a more sympathetic character. In so doing he made Madame Whitesnake seem foolish, impulsive and inconsiderate of anyone else. This is inconsistent with the developed story in which Bai Suzhen helps many people with her powers. What a shame! Still the music and photography were good.
My favourite version is this one made in 2006 as a series. When I last looked (January 2012) there was a link to a torrent for this series. See the photo for the website details. This is a far more sympathetic version of the story and develops both 'White' and 'Green' characters.