It’s big-budget Chinese fighting film time again, with An Empress And The Warriors being brought to us by Xiaoding Zhao, cinematographer on House Of Flying Daggers and The Curse Of The Golden Flower. Director Siu-Tung Ching was action choreographer on both of these and more, so it’s safe to assume that this is going to be wall-to-wall charging, screaming and weapon-slinging.
Ignore the plot: it’s just a necessary evil. Princess Yen Feier (Kelly Chen) succeeds to the throne when her father dies in batlle. With the assistance of first General Muyong Xuehu (Donnie Yen), she aims to reunite a kingdom which spends a lot of time scrapping with the surrounding regions. However, she is poisoned by her jealous cousin and saved by a mysterious man who seems to offer a far better life than sitting on the throne. Oh noes! What will she do?
Who cares? What you want to see is major drubbing. And you’ll get it in spades, clad in armour which looks so realistic that you wonder how any of the actors manage to move. Everybody is encased in metal from head to foot, swinging around gigantic swords which cause floods of sparks when they hit. There are also bows, arrows, poison darts, gigantic spears and, in what is claimed to be a first for Chinese action films, horses and chariots being owned by soldiers making themselves into human ramps. The informative making-of documentary shows the filming of this, and it doesn’t look remotely safe.
There are fights in forests, in fields, up trees, on horseback, off horseback, and, in one mad moment, on the edge of a weir. What you won’t find is the slow-motion, flying-around-on-wires style of combat introduced by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which is no bad thing. It’s all surprisingly blood-less and sterile until the end, when stuff starts getting through and round the armour and hitting flesh. However, there is still a feeling that it’s just not real – where Western films seem hell-bent on showing extreme, hyper-realistic suffering, you get the impression that this lot could be banging into each other all day and emerge unscathed.
The ‘romance’ part of the film is more of an annoyance than a vital feature of the plot. Yen Feier clearly has better things to do than hang about with a random doctor in his Robin Hood-esque house (complete with water wheel) and it’s difficult to care about it when logic says she should get back to the palace and sort her cousin out. He wants to fly off in his rather modern-looking hot air balloon, when circumstance really demands that he turn it into an airborne killing machine.
The film looks very nice, but there was too much music for my liking – moments which would have worked better without the ‘epic’ soundtrack are fairly frequent, especially when the soundtrack isn’t as epic as it thinks it is. Perhaps it tries a bit too hard because everything in this has been done already, and better, elsewhere. Whatever the case, Warriors is okay, just not brilliant when compared to previous efforts.
The DVD has the aforementioned documentary, which is worth watching, and the theatrical trailer. Lacking, just like the main feature.
An Empress And The Warriors is out today.