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Film / Green Snake

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Green Snake (青蛇) is a Hong Kong movie starring Vincent Zhao, Maggie Cheung and Joey Wong, directed by Tsui Hark and released in 1993. It is based on the eponymous novel by Lilian Lee, itself based on a famous Chinese folk tale.

Green Snake and White Snake are two female serpent-spirits. Aged 500 and 1000 years respectively, they have trained for centuries in order to take up a human appearance and eventually become fully human. This would raise their status on the karmic scale and bring them closer to the Enlightenment promised by Buddha to all living beings.

White Snake, in her guise as a beautiful young maiden, seduces a scholar and intends to bear his child in order to complete her passage in the human realm. Her young sister Green Snake isn't nearly as good, and occasionally allows her serpent nature to slip through—she still has a taste for bugs and sometimes finds crawling on the floor easier than walking. Both need to hide from a fanatical exorcist who considers shapeshifting creatures to be an offense to the natural order.

Another adaptation of the Green Snake mythos, Green Snake (2021), will be released nearly two decades later, this time in animated form.

Contains examples of:

  • Berserk Button: Fahai hates it when his hypocrisy is called out.
  • Downer Ending: In the end, White Snake and all the other Buddhists die in the battle between Fahai and the snakes, the scholar is murdered, their child is orphaned, Green Snake loses her friends, and Fahai is forced to live with the consequences of his decisions.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: On numerous occasions, including:
    • The scholar isn't sharp enough to realize that his lover is a supernatural being for most of the movie, but when Fahai explains the situation to him and tries to force him out of it, the scholar insists there's nothing wrong in what he's doing, noting that White Snake IS a good wife to him, and that Fahai is using religion to make decisions that aren't his to make.
    • Green Snake isn't very skilled or motivated to become a true human, but after all the crap that she has to witness and endure, she kills the Scholar in anger. When Fahai tries to chastise her for the murder, she angrily retorts that it is all his fault, since that in his refusal to see any good in any supernatural being that he meets, he provoked all the events in the movie and the ultimate tragedy that they all had to endure. Although disgusted, Fahai has no choice but to sadly concede to her point (which is even more painful for him given that Buddha HIMSELF tried to warn him about the consequences of his prejudices).
    • The Taoist might be the most clumsy demon hunter in the planet, but his knowledge of the beings that he's dealing with is accurate.
  • Evil Plan: Fahai is on a mission to track down shapeshifting creatures and kill them.
  • Fantastic Racism: ANY suggestion to Fa-Hai the monk that love between humans and demons may be pure and decent WILL fall on deaf ears.
  • Flaming Sword: Fa-Hai uses one of this to kill a trio of demons, setting them on fire with explosive effects.
  • God Is Good: Buddha disapproves of Fahai's supernatural creature-hunting and instead wants all creatures to ascend the levels of karma and achieve Enlightenment.
  • Heel–Face Turn: The exorcist finally realizes the error of his ways. Sadly, it happens too late to change anything.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Not so much sympathetic per se, but in comparison with Fahai, the Taoist demon hunter is a pathetic Butt-Monkey whose attempts to fight off the protagonists only results in a devastating amount of pain to him.
  • Interspecies Romance: White Snake and the scholar.
  • Lawful Stupid: Fahai claims that he is doing what he is doing for the sake for the celestial rules of the universe, but as the film shows from the beginning, even Buddha is disgusted by his actions.
  • Misanthrope Supreme: Fahai looks down upon humans and doesn't consider himself to be one, as indicated by the opening scene, showing humans with hideous deformed faces. Disgusted, he mutters "humans."
  • Not So Above It All: Fahai looks down upon humans, demons, and sexuality. Green Snake finally proves he has feelings for her.
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: For all his antics and bad luck, the Taoist IS a knowledgeable demon hunter and proves to be capable of exploiting weaknesses. It's too bad that he insists on picking a fight against opponents far smarter and more powerful than he is.
  • The Punishment Is the Crime: Fahai accidentally ruins everyone's lives (including his own) and is forced to live with the guilt over his actions.
  • Really 700 Years Old: White Snake and Green Snake are much older than their human disguises imply.
  • Shapeshifting Lover: White Snake. The story belongs to a genre of Chinese folk tales that depict love affairs between a man and a shapeshifting creature (usually a fox or a snake) who has assumed the guise of a beautiful woman. Unusually, in this case she's not a pure evil temptress out to eat his essence but engaging in something closer to Enlightened Self-Interest: if she's a good wife who has his children, what's he got to complain about if doing so helps her move up the karmic order? The scholar even says so himself.
  • Snakes Are Sexy: White Snake secures her marriage by seducing the scholar. When the sisters intertwine like the snakes they are, the effect is (unsurprisingly) quite erotic.
  • Tempting Fate:
    • Buddha teaches Fahai early in the story that his prejudices against demons go against the celestial rules that he tries to enforce on others. He soon forget his lesson, and tries to force the scholar to become a Buddhist and separate him from white snake. Everybody pays for that.
    • Green Snake trying to prove that Fahai isn't as pure than he claims? She succeeds in proving her point.
    • How many times will the Taoist try to fight the protagonists until he learns that the only thing that he will get from them is his ass handed to him?
  • To Become Human: Both sisters' ambition; not to be human per se but because humans are closer to Enlightenment than snakes.
  • Van Helsing Hate Crimes: Fahai is the definitive Eastern perpetrator of this trope. White Snake was doing nobody any harm as a scholar's wife and yet she's high on his hit list.
  • Villainous Crush: Green Snake for Fahai. Its mutual. But when Fahai's seemingly unbreakable meditation is finally shattered when he realizes it, he goes on a racist tirade.
  • Violently Protective Girlfriend: Dare to kidnap the Scholar from White Snake, and she and her friend will unleash the forces of the nature upon your ass.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The exorcist Fahai considers himself a defender of the natural order.