The action fracas The Princess owes a lot to the sustained action climax genre ala John Wick, or The Raid or Dredd. That type of movie goes for a constant stream of action as the characters go from point A to point B on a ticking clock with only brief pauses in between. The trick to pulling off an action movie like that is to keep things constantly inventive to maintain viewers attention. The Princess never quite gets there. The action is good, and the pace is zippy, but “good” action isn’t enough to make a successful action climax film, so it gets a little repetitive. The Princess gets points for being way messier than expected with lots of splatter, although there isn’t much to the characters or story. Great to see some scummy chumps get bashed over the head a lot though.
The Princess (Joey King) is chained in a high tower, waiting to be married to the evil warlord Julius (Dominic Cooper). Meanwhile her family, the King (Ed Stoppard), the Queen (Alex Reid) and their other daughter Violet (Katelyn Rose Downey) have been taken prisoner by Julius who has assumed command of the entire castle, along with his sidekick the whip-wielding Moria (Olga Kurylenko). Breaking her hand to break free of her bonds, The Princess battles through Julius’ goons to set her family free, along the way finding her sparring buddy Linh (Veronica Ngo) to help out. But the Princess’ spree of chaos makes her a less enticing bride to Julius so he may just kill her and marry her little sister instead.
The movie is basically one long string of action scenes broken up with flashbacks. Some ho-hum flashbacks cover how the Princess is a strong lady who just wants to brawl and learning to battle from Linh and her uncle Khai (Kristofer Kamiyasu). It’s supposed to be character building but it comes off as a cliché. There’s flashbacks about her dad worrying about how his kingdom has no male heir so he has to set up the Princess with Julius to ensure it continues. Then she leaves him at the altar which causes the kidnapping and chaos. The flashbacks are supposed to provide a reprieve between the action but none of them are particularly interesting. She’s not a normal Princess, she’s a fighter. That’s told in the first five minutes but the movie keeps reiterating that.
The idea of the film being a string of action scenes isn’t bad, it’s just that without some spectacular action it can be a drag. Happily, the movie is violent with lots of splatter. It could have been a bloodless PG-13 affair but the chunky action makes it stand out. There are fun little moments inside the action, mostly supplied by King’s reactions and glowers. She mostly just says standard action hero quips like “I’m the princess!” or after kicking a guy in the crotch who keeps going, she says confusedly, “That usually works”. But she has an impressive physicality and spends a lot of the film hollering, like when she snaps her finger to take off her cuffs, or when she yells and rushes a guy down several flights of stairs.
Another fun bit is when chugs down some ale in front of some captors and holds up her finger to indicate she’s not finished drinking yet. She delivers an unladylike burp at the end which is an easy gag but fun. The only time King gets to extensively talk is when the Princess does an angry monologue at Julius about how she will plot his death every night. Of course, it is a lot like John Wick’s iconic “I’m guessing I’m back!” monologue, which this movie steals a lot from. There’s even a scene when the Princess and her buddy “arm up” before the final confrontation in an elaborately designed armory which feels like a Medieval version of John Wick’s elaborately designed armories.
Cooper gets in the most as the villainous Julius who is such a horrible person, he declares his intentions to marry a child. There’s a brief hint of emotional depth during the flashback when the Princess strands him at the altar and the look of his face is one of actual rejection. Also, he gets the nastiest exit from the movie befitting the big bad. Kurylenko as his sidekick is the standard evil second in command with a quirk, in this case her whip which she uses to dispose of a mouthy henchman and that’s about it. As the family members, Stoppard and Reid are cardboard cut-outs that can say King or Queen, and Downey as youngest daughter practically has “helpless kidnap bait” stamped across her forehead. Ngo pops up a few times to fight alongside the Princess and is quickly forgotten about and Kamiyasu as her Uncle gets one training flashback scene, never getting a chance to do something really cool.
While The Princess isn’t a fantastic action movie, it is interesting how it commits to just focusing on sustaining the mayhem the entire running time. An action movie that never stops is a cool attempt but unless it can offer up something truly different it won’t be memorable. But if one is in the mood to watch sustained Medieval hack and slash carnage, this Princess delivers.
Director: Le-Van Kiet
Starring: Joey King, Dominic Cooper, Olga Kurylenko and Veronica Ngo