Fighting and action prop up this mediocre thriller
“Someone needs to teach you your place. I’ve heard that before.” This is one of the first corny dialogues that ‘The Princess’ uses to familiarize us with its female-centric narrative. Well, at least that’s what it aspires to be.
Director Le-Van Kiet has a singular idea – violence and ruthless killing until you’re sick of seeing the dead bodies fall to the floor. That and a semblance of a plot hopelessly trying to find a middle ground between good and evil. There is none.
In the fashion of ‘The Raid’, the Indonesian action classic, the princess’ mission is to save her family from the tyrannical and megalomaniac prince Julius but she has to make her way down from the Tower through a sea of savage soldiers. Joey King stars as the titular character, while Dominic Cooper and Veronica Ngo play supporting roles.
To start off, the first few minutes are actually very impressive. The setup for King’s princess (pun intended) brims with excitement and the tingling sense of what is to come. Still in chains, she fights off the two men in crisply choreographed sequences – a trend that holds for most parts of the film.
She then hides under water while a tall, knight with a mountain-like build does his business. Amidst the pillage and looting, infighting, and chaos, she slips through the corridors and uncovers Julius’ real plans. Post that, Hulu’s ‘The Princess’ trudges on a straight line, Kiet seldom losing focus and surprisingly finding innovative ways to present the battles. Until the very end, where the charm exasperatingly vanishes.
By design, ‘The Princess’ is meant to be a mantlepiece for King’s wondrous abilities in the film to pull off the most daring stunts that even the seasoned veterans would struggle to. On paper, it professes to be a function of the “convention turning on their heads” and reinventing the cultural image of a princess.
Screenwriters Lustig and Thornton suck out any softness and vulnerability from the archetype and replace it with a bloody rage and violent edge. King does not look the part but that is not the point. She fights with the grace of a ballerina and the heart of a warrior. Her defenses seem impenetrable, even in her uncomfortable and slowing white gown. The anticipation of the film was to have a period setting with modern sensibilities, fully realized in a tight-paced narrative. That reality never truly comes.
Its remnants are found lingering in different parts of ‘The Princess’ but are never quite come together to make sense. Kiet’s Hollywood debut comes on the back of bone-crunching films like ‘Furie’ and ‘The Requin’.
There are marked similarities between the projects; alas for some reason, he is never able to assert himself in the narrative. His inability to fully grasp or grab the reins of where his story is going is marginally offset by the ferocious action that seems to have been the hardest the crew and cast worked on. For all its pullbacks, I liked the sequences. Despite knowing what is going to happen – another generic trap that ‘The Princess’ falls into – there is a sense of wonderment watching it all unfold.
The great use of space and men ensures we are not bored to death. The creative ideas behind the curtain of its action lack texture. They are so underdeveloped, you’d think that the screenplay remained incomplete and Kiet had to come up with the second half all on his own.
The writing lacks any depth and fails to add value to the robust work the stunt department pulls off. Unscrewing the permanence of traditions and establishing a new order is the farthest thing you’d mistake ‘The Princess’ for. Kiet seems least concerned with context and obsessed with culture. The presence of the princess’ exotic masters, how she ended up in the tower, or how the tall walls of the kingdom were penetrated by a handful of men are never explained.
‘The Princess’ is a typical streaming mishap. We have too many of those now, slowly turning into an epidemic. It is a watchable movie – but barely. Fighting and action are all this has to offer for viewers. The feminist quips, and the power of the gender to fight back, all come in dated forms and feel too self-indulgent to engage with fully.
Read More: The Princess Ending Explained
Verdict - 6/10