Even before the writhing Indian ball sequence, the camera declares its stylistic affinities to Bollywood with febrile, supercharged dollying and mutant-Monet filters, laying the groundwork for the eccentric fable. The "natural order" is a marketplace of misshapen scramblers as seen by a Buddhist zealot (Chiu Cheuk Man), whose crusade against spiritual evolution targets dissenting "non-humans." The bamboo forest trembling with fuschia smoke segues into a cobalt downpour, under which the two sister snakes take up human form: White (Joey Wong) is attracted to the murmurs of scholars, Green (Maggie Cheung) tries out her new gams by rubbing herself against a troupe of dancers. White yearns for human feelings while Green is happy with animal appetites, like mermaids they're prone to sprouting scaly tails when wet; the bewildered academic (Wu Xing-Guo) ping-pongs between the two and, confronted with one of them in full puppet-serpentine mode, does a lethal spit-take. Meanwhile, Chiu's spoilsporting monk wrestles with the bald, monkey-tailed temptresses who dare to spoil his pious meditation -- his puritanical control yields to the sight of Green in the river, his loins betray him but his flaming dragon tattoo flies to the rescue. Tsui Hark understands the "three-fanged serpent" D.H. Lawrence wrote about, which is really another way of saying this is Russell's Lair of the White Worm done right. Polar opposites (human and animal, male and female, repression and abandon) slam in joking, mythical freak-outs, which Tsui endows with kitsch illusionism (smoke plus wind equals flight, a la Pasolini's Arabian Nights) and soaring sensation. There's Cheung's breathtaking comic agility, a temple turned scarlet by hypocritical proselytizing and at least one gag from Ugetsu -- all components of the film's glow. In Tsui's universe, the path to enlightenment lies in recognizing the full range of human emotion without forgetting how to catch insects with your tongue. With Lau Kong, Tien Feng, and Ma Cheng-miu.
--- Fernando F. Croce