For a little while, there, Chinese movies had a bit of momentum, with the release of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers. Somewhere along the way the hype really died down, which is sad, because strong efforts still make their way out to the theaters from time to time. Here we have Kelly Chen (Infernal Affairs) and Donnie Yen as the princess and a general of the kingdom. In the opening dramatic battle Kelly’s father (the King) dies and passes on the kingdom to Donnie. But when the time comes Donnie insists that the princess become the King (also known as the Empress). She does so, even though she can’t really fight. This angers certain other generals, including the previous King’s nephew. She decides to undergo military training in order to lead the country better.
Tony Ching’s An Empress And The Warriors promises so much but delivers little. While its art direction looks great, it suffers from a weak story with improbable moments and forced emotions. Allow me to elbaorate a bit. Between the gutsy warfare, political shenanigans and romantic flights of fancy, pic has no downtime, driven along by tight editing and Mark Lui’s wall-to-wall score. But though not as rushed and breathless as many late ’80s /early ’90s Hong Kong action costumers and Ching’s earlier directing forays, it has no special texture or psychological depth. The performances bring very little emotion to the proceedings, with a wooden Kelly Chen and Leon Lai failing to ignite any kind of spark on screen, while prolific superstar, Donnie Yen, simply goes through the motions.
There is blood and slashing of people, nothing too graphic, and lots of intense yelling meant to convey dramatic emotion. I have to say that the pacing of the film was relatively swift, something would always happen just when I was about to start feeling bored. I also have to admit that some of the shots were really nice to look at. Look at the attention paid here to bring to life ancient China, with each character’s armor individually crafted, and each main character with their own specially distinct sword. The trouble here is in the moral conception of the world. War = bad? Peace = good? Maybe. But this isn’t explored in any detail, it is just assumed.
I can’t really envision watching the movie a second time, considering there are no additional layers or subtext to the film. But, I can recommend this movie if you haven’t seen it before. It good enough to watch on a gloomy Wednesday afternoon. An Empress And The Warriors does get the adrenaline pumping and the film does have a breathless pace. The simplicity sometimes recalls early Shaw Brothers period films, but the homage falls short when everything else is up to the times, especially the violence and action. Check out the attached movie clip, if you think this would be your cup of tea then give it a rental. Just don’t expect a classic war epic, even if Donnie Yen is cast and is featured in a fantastic battle scene. Just remember, I can’t review only A+ titles! Granted, this film has enough substance to stand on its own.