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DVD Review

DVD cover

An Empress and the Warriors


Starring: Donnie Yen, Kelly Chen, Leon Lai, Ziaodong Guo and Zhenghai Kou
Cine-Asia / Showbox
RRP: £15.99
Certificate: 15
Available 23 March 2009

At a time when China was at war with itself, the country is split into ten adversarial kingdoms, the kingdom of Yan is fighting a constant war against the Zhao. At a crucible moment in their history Yan Feier’s father is killed leaving her to rule. But the transition of power does not sit well with her cousin who conspires to have her killed so that he may claim the throne. Surviving an attack by assassins, Feier is nursed back to health by a handsome hermit, who opens her eyes to the pointlessness of war. Now Feier must turn away from the man who she has come to love to see if she can heal her kingdom...

An Empress and the Warriors (2008 - 1 hr, 30 min, 47 sec) is an epic love story directed by Tony Siu-Tung Ching (A Chinese Ghost Story (1987), Swordsman Trilogy (1990, 1992, 1993)).

At its heart, this is a fairy story; therefore it would be an easy shot to accuse the film of a lack of realism. On the one hand we have the love triangle between Duan, Muyong and the princess Yan Feier, played by Kelly Chen, who remains appropriately pretty during the love scenes and pretty scary in a fight. Chen moves seamlessly between these two states, although when we first encounter her she is relatively innocent about the ways of the world, having been protected by the court. In essence the premise is no sillier than the Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003), both work if you relax and enjoy the ride and don’t dig too deeply.

The comparisons don’t end there, both have beautifully choreographed battles. Although there is some wire work, especially in the scenes with the assassins chasing the princess through the forest, thankfully this is kept to a minimum, which allows more of an element of historical drama to take root rather than the outright fantasy feel of House of Flying Daggers (2004). Each has their place, but it’s good that Ching didn’t feel the need to just clone an already successful film.

The film sports three leading men. Duan Lanquan (Leon Lai) is the doctor, and secretly retired warrior, who rescues the princess after she has been attacked. During their time together he not only heals her wounds but also gives her a glimpse into a world of beauty and peace that years of war have driven from her consciousness. The scenes between Chen and Lai feel very naturalistic with real chemistry between their characters. 

Donnie Yen plays Muyong, who is chosen by the dying king to be his successor, something which does not sit well with the court as he is a bastard orphan. To be honest, this part of his past is never adequately explained as the film skips past this when he pledges his support for Feier to ascend to the throne, presumably to stop a civil war.

No film worth its salt, especially a fairy tale, would be without its villain. Guo Xiaodong plays Wu Ba, passed over by the dying monarch in favour of Muyong. He takes this rather badly, eventually inciting the civil war which Muyong had hoped to avoid. Guo does well to rein his part back from being a pantomime villain and whilst we, as an audience, never sympathise with his position, his motives remain realistic.

Apart from the acting the three things which really sell the film is its cinematography (Zhang Mu Liu, Ze Xie, Xiaoding Zhao) the choreography of the fight scenes (Siu-Tung Ching), thankfully only a minimal amount of slow motion action and especially the costume design (Dora Ng). Given that about eighty percent of the film is spent with people in armour, the attention to detail is breathtaking.

The movie is presented with option for either 2.0 or 5.1 audio; obviously with the amount of action going on 5.1 is the way to go with a soundscape which is effective in the fight scenes. Extras are limited to the original theatrical trailer (1 min, 53 sec) and a ‘Making of’ featurette (23 min, 37 sec) which has contributions from the cast and crew. It’s the usual ‘big up’ that we have come to know; lots of speaking with little actual information. Still, it’s better than nothing.

Ultimately, the two halves of the film don’t quite feel like they gel together, maybe because there are so few moments which the director isn’t trying to be epic about. So, the love story is epic and the battles are epic. Of course the litmus test it how bored you were watching it and honestly I sat through the whole thing and felt like it was less than an hour long, so it obviously held my attention, whatever its flaws.


Charles Packer

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