Film scores

Soundtrack review: Zhong Kui: Snow girl and the dark crystal (Javier Navarette – 2015)

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„Zhong Kui: Snow girl and the dark crystal”…This name alone inspires a great score. Fantasy movies are prone to that. As my experience has taught me, Chinese fantasy movies even more so. And when the composer is Javier Navarrete, who wrote such gems as „Pan’s labyrinth” I am downright excited about this score before hearing one single note. A composer with Navarette’s imagination and a visually stunning story like this one can only mean we have a great score on our hands. My standard for stories like this one is Klaus Badelt’s “Wu Ji” (The Promise).

“In heaven” is a strong opening. The soft Chinese instruments and choral work announce something legendary. This is how the beginning of a fantasy should sound like. This starts tenderly and then gets grave and ominous. I hear some Asian instrument that take me back to “The last samurai” and after this cue I know that the story will include danger. Indeed the score continues with “Underworld” which growls at us with a dark, almost tribal rhythm and powerful male choirs. All the mystery and darkness of an underworld are blended in this theme.

Next I guess we are introduced to one of the heroes of our story. ‘Nothing to fear’ sounds playful and innocent and I guess the character has no idea what is getting into. This theme is fit for an unlikely hero suddenly thrust in the adventure of a lifetime. “Endurance” returns to the epic and powerful. Those choirs just make something rise in me. They evoke thousands of years of history.

“Little snow” is sensitive and has the clarity of a lake not yet frozen. Yet something’s missing because I am not as moved as I expected to be. Usually this type of cue ends up as my favorite from a score but maybe I wanted more depth. “Little snow” is just the surface and I wanted to explore what lied beneath. Same with “Snow girl”. I know the Chinese background of the story asks for the utmost sensitivity but this cue is nothing more than nature sounds and echoes and enjoyable as they are they only feel like the start of something. I needed to hear the rest of it. Still this cue is almost six minutes long and it warms me in the end.

“If I were a demon” finally finds the right rhythm between tenderness and power. It tells me something, it’s deep and emotional. It’s not a momentum for the score though because “To await someone” shuts up again. I remember how Tan Dun’s “Hero” sounded… how it moved me with every note, with every motif. Javier Navarette’s composition is not there yet. Are my high expectations to blame? “Snow girl and the dark crystal” has the mystery but doesn’t back it up. I am still looking for traces of that great start.

“Dark crystal” instead of tearing down the house is the first cue that sounds actually electronic and devoid of sentiment. The next two cues, “Giant demon king” and “Lifeless” last almost 15 minutes in total and can redeem or break this score. Hope the latter title won’t characterize the music. I am getting a little frustrated with this score. It’s like the music keeps trying to break through but something is holding it back. “Lifeless” stays in that room full of Chinese incents that just burn and leaves some sort of scent you can’t always identify. The music is foggy and confusing to me.

“Lost souls” seems to free the music from under that bad spell. This is what I wanted to hear, this is the heart I was looking for in this score. This piece touches me, warms my heart and I love it. But even this cue loses a bit of steam in its second half. I am more and more intrigued by the lack of connection I feel with “Snow girl”. I will put a pin in it and return to it in a few months, maybe with a different mood.

With all my high expectation this score sort of faded away during its 70 minutes run. The beginning gave me hope and the rest of it frustrated me a bit. I thought this one was a given…But except a couple of thundering cues and a few intense moments like “Snow girl vanishes” I couldn’t find anything else. Even more, these moments showed me the great potential this score had. I thought it would all sound like “Zhongkui”. Like I said, I will return to it with fresh eyes.

Cue rating: 79 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 13 / 69

Album excellence: 19%

Highlights:

In Heaven

Underworld

Endurance

If I Were A Demon

Zhongkui

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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