"KEEP BUSTIN'."

The Princess

THE PRINCESS is a new straight-to-Hulu movie with a simple concept. At its center is a Disney-type story of a medieval princess who wants to find her own destiny and not be forced to marry somebody for political reasons, but it’s done as a violent martial arts movie with a DIE HARD type premise. The Princess (Joey King, WHITE HOUSE DOWN) wakes up, having been drugged, in a Rapunzel type tower. She doesn’t have long hair, but she does know how to fight, so she battles to the death with the guys guarding her and sneaks around the castle picking off enemies McClane/Ryback style while plotting how to save her family, who she sees threatened at swordpoint in the plaza below.

In flashbacks we learn that due to a lack of male heirs The King (Ed Stoppard, JUDY) was gonna let this motherfucker Julius (Dominic Cooper, WARCRAFT) marry the young princess. She almost went through with it “for the good of the kingdom” or whatever, but backed out at the last minute, and now this hostage situation is how Julius plans to change her mind. Great guy.

When she first started fighting I wasn’t sure if it would be that device where everyone just automatically knows how to do acrobatic martial arts, because it’s fun. I’m usually okay with that, but they have an explanation here. The Princess’s tutor Linh (motherfuckin Veronica Ngo, CLASH, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON: SWORD OF DESTINY) is a great warrior, and The Princess wants to be one too, so she convinces her to teach her fighting along with etiquette. The Queen (Alex Reid, THE DESCENT 1-2) okays it as long as Dad doesn’t see.

The trailer, with its fairy tale fake out leading to “Bad Reputation” fight montage, suggests a movie that will lean into the absurdity and smart alecky-ness of mashing up these two genres. Nothing against that, but I like that it takes a pretty serious (but not overly serious) approach. It attempts to win you over not by winking and mugging, but by really being a well-crafted action movie – tons of fighting, with a variety of weaponry and methods, a clearly dedicated star performing complex choreography without having to cut every move or two, an effective, economical story structure (by first time feature writers Ben Lustig and Jake Thornton). Also, gratuitous somersaults, cartwheels and flips, which I always encourage, support and respect in any work of art, no matter the medium.

I suspect the reason this turned out so good is the same reason I watched the movie in the first place: it’s from director Le-Van Kiet, who did Ngo’s outstanding 2019 vehicle FURIE. (As much as I’m recommending THE PRINCESS here, if you haven’t seen FURIE, make that a higher priority.) It also has the same fight choreographer, Kefi Abrikh, this time working with supervising stunt coordinator/second unit director Clayton J. Barber (choreographer and Nomak double in BLADE II). And Ngo gets an actual good character, who gets to fight and be the emotional center of the movie, not one of those “well, it was cool to see her at least” parts alot of international stars (including Ngo herself in THE OLD GUARD) get in English language movies.

Linh herself has a cool mentor named Khai (Kristofer Kamiyasu, HITMAN’S WIFE’S BODYGUARD). When we learn who he is in flashback we also recognize him as one of the people being held hostage by Julius, and therefore a possible sleeper waiting to go into action. We also learn that he’s the previous owner of the Princess’s cool Asian-styled, dragon-hilted sword, and that he bestowed it on her for something she did without a sword, which in itself sets up how she’ll handle some important fights at the end. I can enjoy a cool sword for the sake of a cool sword, but it’s even better when it has a history, meaning and narrative purpose. (If only it had a name! I like swords with names.)

I have started a new paragraph and I’m still talking about the sword, so please realize how much I love it. Late in the movie she’s lost it, and Julius has it. Linh sees it and says, “That sword doesn’t belong to you.” So she, and the movie, are just as concerned as I am that it gets back to The Princess. (The movie doesn’t let us down.)

Another distinct weapon belongs to Julius’s right hand woman Moira (Olga Kurylenko, MAX PAYNE). It’s a whip and it has a little claw-like blade that comes out of the end of it. She’s a wicked badass with large, elaborate hair, a thing for Julius, and more of a thing for killing people. She uses the whip in many different ways and she (non-specific spoiler) meets a fitting end. Many good deaths in this one.

From what I could tell Linh doesn’t have a favorite weapon, she uses a bunch. A bow and arrow, a double-sided sword, at one point a frying pan. Makes sense, since she taught The Princess how to use everything as a weapon – the chains they bind her with, a ribbon, a mug, flammable liquids and torches, whatever.

My friends at the Action For Everyone podcast enjoyed this one too and they had some good points. Mike calls it a reverse THE RAID because she’s fighting her way down instead of up. Vyce honored King with the prestigious A4E Action-Packed White Girl designation and noted comparisons people had made to video games, including that it’s a princess moving down levels to save herself instead of somebody coming up to rescue her. (Mario couldn’t get off work I guess.) The style of action is definitely more inspired by THE RAID than DIE HARD, but I want to note some specific similarities that might be intentional.

When McClane is sneaking around Nakatomi Plaza, Gruber doesn’t know who he is at first, and calls him “cowboy.” Julius doesn’t actually know it’s The Princess doing all this killing, because nobody sent to check on her comes back to report that she’s gone, and it wouldn’t occur to them that she’d be capable of this. So he keeps sending his men to find and kill “this vigilante.” Much like McClane crawls through vents and elevator shafts, The Princess climbs in the spaces between walls. In one great scene she spies on Julius and Moira through a slit and attempts to stab him through the wall, but he gets called away a moment before she would’ve got him.

When The Princess sets a man on fire and knocks him out of the tower it reminds me of McClane dumping the body onto the police car (though McClane is trying to get help, while she’s calling attention to herself by accident).

The THE PRINCESS equivalent of avoiding an explosion by jumping off the building with a firehose and smashing a window with bloody feet is when she avoids capture by leaping out the window, holding onto a banner and running across the wall to get to another window.

Of course Julius finds out who “the vigilante” is and tries to use her family against her. His biggest oh-shit-this-guy-really-is-an-asshole villain move is when he decides on a new plan of killing her and marrying her pre-teen sister Violet (Katelyn Rose Downey) to become king. Very, very, very uncool there, Julius.

It’s impressive how well they maintain simplicity without being very repetitive. She’s plowing through motherfuckers but they do a good job of distinguishing some of the thugs she gets into it with. One of her early encounters is with a huge guy with his face hidden inside a horned helmet. When he talks he reminds me of The Humungus from ROAD WARRIOR. There’s a funny joke that he comes into a room where she’s hiding and she has to hold her breath under bath tub water while he first takes a long piss and then stops to flex in the mirror. Her battle with him is a beaut because he so overpowers her but she zeroes in on a weakness – the horns. She scrapes them against a wall, uses them as handles to twist the helmet around backwards, stabs him with them.

I mean, there are the movies where people just shoot and punch each other and there are the ones like this where they must’ve sat and filled a couple journals full of every cool move they could think of. Tear her necklace off and throw the gems on the stairs like marbles to knock everybody on their asses. Then run across their shields. Grab a guy and use him to cushion a big fall. Get between two guys and duck behind one’s shield when the other one stabs. She always has a strategy. Everybody wears armor, so she knows to slash at the joints. And there’s gore. Stabbing through heads. Removing heads. Good stuff. Kids will love it.

The Princess starts to blame herself, because if she had just given in then all these other people wouldn’t be in harm’s way. But Linh gives her supportive affirmations, and in the end her choices actually cause progress. She did the right thing. Also the most entertaining thing.

In a way it’s a thankless role for Cooper – he’s capable of playing one of those fun, charismatic assholes, but this is more the despicable kind. The whole plot is based on this tradition that the throne can only go to a male heir – a systemic declaration of male supremacy. But of course we see that The Princess and Linh are far more capable than any of them. The Queen is nicer than The King (who disapproves of The Princess having so-called masculine interests, tries to make her marry against her will, and also is just a fuckin idiot for thinking it’s okay for Julius to be King, however it happens). And on the evil side, Julius has a whole army of male doofuses and this one badass gal Moira who he doesn’t seem to notice seems kinda jealous about him trying to get with The Princess. I like to think if they’d succeeded in taking over the kingdom she would’ve ended up taking him out with that whip later.

Anyway, at the climax of this movie Julius seems to have won, and he’s mouthing off to The King and everyone, and the sound fades out. It’s to show The Princess focusing her mind in order to find the precise moment to make her move, but it’s great because also it’s his big speech and she just doesn’t pay attention. Yeah yeah yeah, I don’t care dude, shut the fuck up.

I think this is a good one for the straight-to-streaming format. It’s slight enough that maybe having to go out and pay for a ticket would’ve made people harder on it, but it definitely has a much bigger than DTV budget because they clearly spent a long time training for and filming the fights, which seem to make up the majority of the movie, and outshine most of the action we’re getting in any medium these days.

I look forward to the next time Ngo gets to be the lead, but until then good for little miss “Girl in Wheelchair / China Girl” from OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, Joey King. Whatever they were teaching you and young Bane in that pit, it’s paying off.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 6th, 2022 at 11:04 am and is filed under Action, Fantasy/Swords, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

14 Responses to “The Princess”

  1. I’ve been on the fence about watching this partly because I couldn’t tell if it was aimed at children and partly because I’ve gotten to where I just don’t really trust Netflix originals to be watchable. Sounds like I should give this one a go.

  2. At first I was avoiding that movie. The whole premise sounded like something that a self-fellating streaming or premium cable comedy about Hollywood would cook up as a purposely shitty parody of bad Hollywood concepts. I can see the scene where a bunch of high profile actors playing out-of-touch writers and executives, pitch the movie as a modern take on the outdated Disney stereotypes with all kinds of hollow buzzwords on the imaginary television in my head clearly and in HD. They even mention a pat ending! But then I randomly came across the trailer just yesterday and I realized that I don’t give a shit about the quality of the premise. That movie looked too cool to ignore it and I can’t wait until I get a chance to see it. We don’t have Hulu, so there is a 50/50 chance that it will either go straight to Disney+ or even get a physical media release.

  3. Franchise Fred

    July 6th, 2022 at 1:30 pm

    I liked it too. I suppose at this point this was produced with the intention of going to Hulu, unlike a Deep Water situation. Still it seems like what’s left of Fox is making the kind of movies Fox would have made with the budgets they would have had if theaters still showed those types of movies. Or maybe not, the Predator franchise never really sustained theatrical releases. Hopefully they continue to be this solid.

  4. Huh. This was an automatic pass for me just based on the “poster” I saw popping up on Hulu. I didn’t even think of watching a preview or trying to gather more information. That’s on me for judging a movie by it’s cover.

  5. I saw this on Disney+ last night. (Funny thing about Disney+ Asia, it’s basically Hulu).

    It has decent action but didn’t wow me. Still worth a look though.

  6. Just watched it and thought it was terrific. Love how direct it is in getting to the marathon of fight scenes. With its somewhat anachronistic flavour in a vague medieval period, kung fu in an incongruous setting, tongue in cheekness and sudden turns into brutality, it really reminds me a lot of XENA WARRIOR PRINCESS, a show that copied Hong Kung Wuxia set pieces over into its Ancient Greek setting, but had recognisable Raimi/Tapert style humour. Also appreciate when action movies recognise a female lead being an equal physical match for male opponents would be ridiculous and use it to organically plan out how the fight will go and what she’ll have to do to prevail, which was a thing in ATOMIC BLONDE and more recently with ENOLA HOLMES.

    Cooper is definitely doing some Rickman stuff in this, but not just Hans, also Nottingham from PRINCE OF THIEVES, down to the climax being a race to stop a forced marriage.

  7. Yeah, I actually thought her outfit during some of the training flashbacks might’ve been an homage to Xena. They force her to wear a dress but she’s a warrior princess at heart.

  8. I’ve been waiting to see your opinion on this, Vern. It’s been getting pretty bad marks from most of the reviewers I’ve seen, but I feel like they’re less than trustworthy when it comes to knowing what people want to see in a B-movie martial arts potboiler. Giving it a go.

  9. Well. I feel dumb. Even after reading the review I was thinking this was a Netflix joint, not a Hulu one.

  10. This is a lot of fun. It gets right into it and barely slows down til the very satisfying conclusion.

    Joey King kicks ass and between fights does an A++ job of desperately catching her breath, gathering her wits and pulling herself together. I loved her using all the trappings of princesshood as weapons – jeweled hairpins, pearl necklaces, elaborate gowns, even the ties of her corset.

    [SPOILER for something that didn’t happen] At the end, when Lord Evil has her down on her knees at knifepoint in front of a cowering throng of spectators, I was hoping/expecting that all the women in the crowd might rush forward and tear the guy apart with their bare hands. Still pretty satisfying to see her [SPOILER for what did happen] cut dude’s head clean off.

    I dug every casual little forearm-bump warrior salute between Lynh, the Princess and the little sister. That’s some good shit.

  11. Well, this was great. Got right the fuck to it with no fuss and expected me to keep up with only minimal flashbacks and exposition, letting the iconography, behavior, and attitude of the protagonist tell us what we need to know and draw audience sympathy instead of a bunch of manipulative screenwriter tactics. This might be the first movie I’ve seen in a decade starring a woman in her twenties who isn’t mourning the recent death of a parent, for instance. You’re on Princess The Princess’s side because of what she’s DOING, not because of what’s been DONE to her. The action is great and King sells every second of it.

    My only note is that the bad guy was right: This IS a kingdom of cowards. One dickhead with a sword manages to hold a crowd of dozens at bay and nobody even thinks about lifting a finger. The king is basically a caricature of ineffectual moderate Democrats writing sternly worded fundraising emails as fascists take over the government. His grand decree at the end was a noble gesture but it sat wrong with me when he put the crown on. He should have just handed it to his daughter right then and there because he proved a dozen times over he course of the movie that he’s not fit to wear it. He should probably hurry up and die so his daughter can take over before the whole country descends even deeper into uselessness.

    PRINCESS/LINH 2024: STAB THE PATRIARCHY IN THE ARMPIT AGAIN

  12. Crushinator Jones

    July 7th, 2022 at 10:08 am

    Thank you for recommending this Vern. Ashamed to say I would have skipped this one because I hadn’t seen the trailer (the advertising has completely missed me) and the masthead on Hulu’s site looked like bad girl-power garbage (not the good kind of girl power. There’s two kinds: “she’s a woman AND she kicks ass” and “she’s a woman BUT she kicks ass” and I though this was going to be the latter) but no, this rocks. Sure it got a little cheesy at points but it had so much damn heart (like the protagonist herself) that I had a big old grin on my face at the end. Can’t wait to see this gal go up against a dragon and roundhouse kick it in the face.

  13. dreadguacamole

    July 8th, 2022 at 6:46 pm

    I found it watchable, just about. Didn’t hate it, didn’t really like it.
    My main problem with it is that I just didn’t find The Princess an engaging character, a credible threat, or a fun fighter to watch. This became crystal clear when she fights alongside Ngo, who is all of these things and outclasses her in any aspect you care to mention except, I guess, whiteness. The movie would be a hundred times better with their roles reversed, but subverting one stereotype was enough for a film as superficial as this.
    All the fights kind of ran together for me, with lots of filler and posturing instead of decent moves. At least get a martial artist for the role, or lean more into the McClane rather than The Raid side of things, to borrow the concept from Vern; the movie does do this a few times, and it’s markedly better when she relies more on doggedness and persistence, like the in fight with the dude with the horned helmet.
    (I do feel kind of bad for saying this – The actor obviously trained loads and puts in a lot of enthusiasm into the role. Glad other people enjoyed it.)
    The script… I thought it was pretty bad? Very broad, very basic, which could be fine for something that’s basically aiming to be a B-movie. The action could have carried it but it didn’t work for me, so I was left noticing the continuity errors, clunky flashbacks, general blandness, how shoddy it looks, and nitpicking all the other little things that took me out of the movie when ideally I would be having too much fun to focus on them.

  14. As expected, it landed here on Disney+ and while I was entertained, I also feel like they could’ve done more with the premise. It’s like after the first 20 minutes they stopped caring and stopped giving every new mid-boss a new look or gimmick. So except for the whip woman, The Princess kept fighting the same grimey, toothless, cackling, big talking goons for the rest of the movie, without anything that helped to distinguish the fights. At one point they had three baddies swing around the stairway and I thought “Hell yeah, fourway rope fight!” but then they just kept kicking and stabbing each other, without any of them getting back to swinging.

    But yeah, it’s good. It was the perfect movie for this Sunday morning.

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