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Snow Wolf Lake


Snow Wolf Lake
Reviewed by Kenneth Lyen

Music: Dick Lee, Wong Sheung-wai
Director: Lee Ming Sum
Cast: Jacky Cheung, Evonne Hsu, Nnadia Chan
Date: 16-18 September 2005
Venue: Kallang Indoor Stadium, Singapore
Rating: *** (out of 5 stars)

Snow Wolf Lake is an example of a musical which succeeds in large part because of its star performer, Jacky Cheung. An immensely popular singer in Asia, Jacky is dubbed one of the four Heavenly Kings. Fans flock from far and wide to hear him sing, giving him standing ovations.

The story of Snow Wolf Lake is relegated to second place. Thus, while it is a highly successful musical commercially, it suffers from some serious flaws.

The problem is that the plot is rather convoluted. I had difficulty following it. Here's what I made of it. It may not be accurate, and I apologize for any errors, and I welcome any corrections.

[Beware: spoilers below]

Wolf is very poor, and is employed as a gardener by a rich family. He is a loner, and excessively protective of the flowers he nurtures with loving care. Living in the large mansion are two beautiful daughters, Snow (Evonne Hsu), who plays the violin, Phoenix (Nnadia Chan), and their parents. One night, during a party, a rich guest, Liang Zhi, is about to pluck a rose from the garden to give to Snow. Wolf tries to stop him but is beaten up by this wealthy guest. Snow witnesses this and takes pity on Wolf. At the end of the party, Wolf's hand is cut by Snow's mother. Snow notices the cut, and gives him a piece of her red cloth to bind the wound.

Wolf keeps a pet monkey called Yiyi, and one day, Yiyi takes Snow's violin. Snow follows the monkey but when she attempts to retrieve her violin it bites her hand. Wolf sees this, and takes off the red cloth wrapped around his wrist and gives it to Snow. But she tears it in half, and they each dress one another's respective wounds with half the cloth. Wolf invites her back to his lodgings, and says that he wants to plant a flower of love to be named "Snow".

From then on, they see each other frequently, and their love blossoms. Unfortunately, when her mother discovers their liaison, she objects to her daughter going out with a poor gardener. She arranges for Snow to go to Vienna to continue her violin studies. It is while boating on the lake that Snow informs Wolf that she will soon be leaving for Vienna. Wolf asks Snow to describe the place, and she tells him that Vienna is a city full of white flowers. The pair decide on the spur of the moment to name the lake they are boating on, after themselves, "Snow Wolf Lake". Suddenly there is a thunder storm, and they hug each other until the storm subsides.

Every time Snow goes out on a date with Wolf, she brings home a flower. Her sister Phoenix sees the flower, and reveals that she harbors a secret love for Wolf, of which he is unaware. In the meantime, mother engineers a scheme for a rich suitor, who turns out to be the conniving Liang Zhi, to date Snow. When Liang Zhi visits Snow, he proposes to her and despite her protests, he kisses her passionately. Wolf is up on the roof and sees the suitor kissing Snow, and expresses his sadness through a song. Snow, on seeing Wolf, echoes her regrets, and together they sing a duet.

Wolf and Snow go to a bar where they spend the night dancing. Liang Zhi bribes everyone to leave the bar, and persuades Snow to go as well. Then he convinces Wolf to demonstrate his love for Snow by throwing a bomb into a building, so that he will get himself into jail. By the time he is released from prison, Snow would have finished her studies in Vienna. [The story becomes a bit confusing here.]

Inside prison, the guards mistreat the prisoners, and Wolf leads an uprising. Initially they seem to have gained the upper hand, but when more guards arrive, the rebellion is squashed, and Wolf is badly beaten up. The guards inform Wolf that Snow has married Liang Zhi, making him thoroughly depressed. But a mysterious old man appears, giving Wolf advice that if he holds true to his love, he can achieve the impossible.

Eventually Wolf is released from prison and immediately goes to Snow's family mansion. There he sees a woman looking after Yiyi, and tending to the plants. He does not recognize Phoenix at first, but she recognizes him. As she has been secretly in love all this time, she takes the opportunity to work with Wolf, making a living growing and selling flowers. On one occasion Wolf even buys a red scarf for her, but ultimately her love for him is unrequited..

One day they accidentally bump into Phoenix and Snow's mother. He learns that Liang Zhi had lied to the parents, informing them that Wolf had been beaten to death in prison. The parents allowed Snow's marriage to him to go through, but he turned out to be a con man, cheating the entire family out of all their fortune, and causing them to be bankrupt. [This point is also unclear.] Throughout this period, they had only received one letter from Snow. In the letter, she said that the only friend she had was her violin.

On learning of this, Wolf decides to travel to Vienna in search of Snow. He sees her playing the violin on a platform. But when he calls out to her, she runs away. He is unable to locate her until one day a newspaper boy informs Wolf that a famous lady violinist called Snow has been killed by her husband. He becomes utterly disconsolate.

At this point, the mysterious old man reappears, and helps Wolf go back in time, so that he can rescue her from death. We are taken back in time, to the very moment when Snow was still alive, shortly before she is killed by her husband, Liang Zhi. The latter is deranged. He realizes that Snow is still in love with Wolf, and informs her that if he himself cannot have her, then Wolf could not have her either. Just at that moment Wolf arrives on the scene, and he fights with Liang Zhi. The latter takes out his gun and shoots Snow. Liang Zhi then realizes that he has killed the only person he loved, and he runs out of the house.

Wolf holds Snow in his arms, devastated. They look into one another's eyes with love. As she dies, she utters her last words, "Let me remember this second, forever."

The music is this musical's greatest strength. The songs are composed by six composers, with most of them written by Dick Lee. The melodies are strong, and they are well arranged by Iskandar Ismail. The sets and costumes are period pieces and lavish. The singing, acting and dancing are of a high standard, and to some extent, this compensates for deficiencies in the story.

The direction could be improved. It was disconcerting to witness Wolf being brutally beaten up one moment, and within seconds, he's up singing at full voice and dancing all over the stage. I enjoyed it, but although I feel it needs more work, I can recommend it.

In conclusion, Snow Wolf Lake is a vehicle for Jacky Cheung, who delivers. The musical is a tremendous commercial success. It also has the potential of becoming a successful film musical.

28 September 2005