Quick Synopsis: When a strong-willed princess refuses to wed a cruel sociopath, she is kidnapped and locked in a remote tower. With her scorned, vindictive suitor intent on taking her father’s throne, the princess must protect her family and save the kingdom.
I was going to dismiss this until I saw the trailer and noticed it was far more subversive and bloody than I thought it would be. I’m glad I watched it as it’s a fun watch and a good way to spend 90 minutes.
I’m not that familiar with the work of Le-Van Kiet, who has mainly worked in Vietnamese cinema, but he did a really good job directing this and I could easily see him being the guy trusted to take on whatever action franchise replaces Fast And Furious. Truth be told, I think he’s only about two or three films away from being discussed as possible Bond director. Those films would need to be really good though as there are a few flaws in the directing here which will be more harshly criticised in a bigger film. Firstly, the CGI is really bad at some points, looking like a video game (especially the fire), and there are some moments which seem overly stylised. But mostly the stylised nature works in its favour. It provides it with a unique and fresh look akin to Kingsman (and yes, I am fully aware how weird it is to say something is unique and then immediately compare it to another film). The action set-ups are superb, there’s a lot going in them but you never feel lost, great sense of physical geography in fight scenes that make them very easy to follow.
There is still a question about whether films like this are catering to a female demographic, or pandering to them. Is it supportive or demeaning? There are arguments both ways, yes she is a strong independent female lead with no focus on romance, there are strong female side characters etc. But her clothes get torn off in fight scenes, and her character is still defined by men. I will be kind and lean towards thinking it’s catering for them. It does do it rather clumsily though. Remember that bit in Endgame where all the female superheroes suddenly appeared in the same shot and you could almost hear the “wooo, girl power, see, we support women” because of how unsubtle it was? There are moments where it’s reminiscent of that. It’s not the worst thing in the world, if it is going to do something like that I’d rather it do it with that message, not just the constant “I am strong man who is rude and sexually harasses women into relationships” themes that defined 80s and 90s action movie leads.
So yeah the message is basic, but what of the plot? Well that’s basic too. It’s very stop and start. She starts to escape, hides, starts to escape. It is clever that almost the entire thing took place in a single building, and is a lot more believable than “she escaped easily and then came back” but it would have been nice to have it feel less like a video game and more like a story. As it is, it’s just her constantly kicking ass for 90 minutes, which is fun to see but does mean that you could edit the film down to 10 minutes and not lose anything of substance. This isn’t helped by how lacking the supporting cast are. Dominic Cooper is having a great time as the antagonist, but the other characters are flatter than a pancake and just as disposable. It doesn’t help that almost all of them look slightly like a more famous actor.
In terms of performance, Joey King is……well it’s hard to tell. There are times when she’s brilliant, but then in some of the action scenes doesn’t quite have it. She’s mostly there, but there are a few moments where her movements (or the movements of her stunt double) don’t quite work, coming off a little stiff. Those are only fleeting moments though, otherwise, she’s pretty much perfect for this. Much better than she was in Wish Upon.
So in summary; there’s a lot to criticise about this film, but if that’s what you’re thinking when you watch it then that’s a bit weird (I mean, I do, but I am weird). It’s not to be analysed and pored over, it’s to watch and enjoy. It’s popcorn cinema at its best.