‘The Princess’ Review: “A Dull Royal Beat ‘Em Up”
Ever since its release, plenty of filmmakers have wanted to create their own version of John Wick one way or another. Why wouldn’t they? It’s a total craze and a well-balanced mixture of punchy action and high tension. Last year alone, we received a couple of Wick copycats that ranged from the fine Nobody to the rather bad Jolt. But one thing is for sure: we aren’t tired of them (as we highly anticipate the John Wick franchise’s fourth and fifth chapters). Nonetheless, out of the blue, a new film inspired by these types of action flicks arrives: The Princess. Its best description is a hyper-violent princess “beat ’em up” story with Wick-esque inflictions.
We have seen fairytales reconstructed into action movies like Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters and Snow White and the Huntsman. Albeit, the directors couldn’t find a more engaging way to tell those stories. Coincidentally, The Princess suffers from that problem, and many more, as director Lê Văn Kiệt didn’t know what to do with the story at hand – noting that he already has delivered one of the worst films of the year with The Requin. The movie revolves around an unnamed princess (Joey King). She wakes up locked and trapped on the top floor of a castle. The princess was kidnapped by a cruel sociopath, Julius (Dominic Cooper). What are his plans? To wed her and rule the kingdom (aka. the most basic of plans a mad royal can have). But, of course, she isn’t going to accept any of this and will take matters into her own hands.
She’s strong-willed and will do whatever it takes to escape, protect her family, and save the kingdom. We learn later on that she has done some training of her own. One of the queen’s companions, Linh (Ngô Thanh Vân), was the source of said training. This creates the space for the narrative’s violent behavior. The action sequences are the main show in this movie. Some of it is choreographed quite well, reminding you of the director’s capabilities of shooting action pictures, (as evidenced in his 2019 film, Furie). However, in the grand scheme of things, The Princess doesn’t add up to pretty much anything.
It feels like a “beat ’em up” videogame (Guardian Heroes, Final Fight, Captain Commando, amongst others) rather than an actually structured and plotted concoction. The movie has a two-part division. One of them consists of lengthy action sequences. The other is an exposition dump. And these transitions headachingly happen with not much purpose or reasoning, just to get her to the bottom of the tower. As she continues fighting, the princess meets some sidekicks (helpers) that give her upgrades to fight the final bosses (the mad knight and his lover). Really, things just happen.
This repetition starts to get exhausting quickly, coincidentally causing the viewer to lose interest as it goes. Of course, some fighting maneuvers and kills do deliver spark into the picture, but it isn’t to a great degree. Mostly, it is just hacking and slashing in a relatively poor fashion for ninety minutes. King isn’t bad in the lead role; it’s probably her most “impressive” role in a few years. Nonetheless, her dramatic chops can’t match the stamina and energy she gives during the combat sequences. That’s where her performance, and the film overall, flounders tremendously. Elsewhere, Dominic Cooper strongly overacts, especially during his monologues, and Olga Kurylenko remains one-note for her entire screen time.
And there are further problems that range from its shoddy visual effects and its cheap costume and production design. Those two elements take you out of the medieval experience. There’s some ruggedness in the killings, but not in the atmosphere. Then comes the poorly chosen score and musical cues, including a pretty ghastly cover of Billy Idol’s classic, “White Wedding”, in the end credits. The Princess ends abruptly, but the real challenge is maintaining your interest in what’s happening as she goes down the tower, body to body. I know Lê Văn Kiệt does have a couple of directorial bones in his body, but here we see him uninspired and unmotivated to make the narrative work. – Hector Gonzalez
The Princess is now streaming on Hulu.