An Empress and the Warriors Review
Yet another film set in China during the period of the Warring Kingdoms, Tony Chiung Sui Tung’s An Empress and the Warriors certainly has its share of battle spectacle and has Donnie Yen heading up the heroics, but taking a decidedly romantic, feminine and even a somewhat anachronistic pacifist stance, it falls well short of the extremely high standards set in this period genre by John Woo’s historical epic Red Cliff.
The plot is relatively straightforward. King Yan has been wounded in battle with the Zhao army, but instead of passing command as expected over to his nephew Lord Wu Ba (Guo Xiaodong), who he considers too cruel, reckless and ambitious only for personal gain, the King favours General Muyong Xuehu (Donnie Yen), an orphan not of the royal bloodline. With claim to the throne now in dispute, his daughter Princess Yan Feier (Kelly Chen) reluctantly takes command and possession of the Swallow Sword in order to preserve unity in the Kingdom of the Great Yan Empire. Doubts about the appropriateness of a female ruler persist however, and the army will only follow a great warrior, so Muyong Xuehu offers to train the Princess. Wu Ba however hatches a plot to ensure that Feier doesn’t even live long enough to make her coronation.
All of which, if it doesn’t provide much in the way of original plotting, strong acting or realistic dialogue, should at least ensure plenty the opportunity for martial arts action and spectacle. Sadly, those occasions – lapsing into slow motion whenever possible – are few and far between here and what tension and energy was generated even by the mechanical plotting is dissipated by a tedious and soppy interlude when the Princess is rescued from a very silly-looking flying warriors attack through an elaborate trap-setting counter-offensive by handsome forest-dwelling Doctor Duan (Leon Lai), who romantically nurses her back to health. The film never really recovers from this, the Princess turning into a wet, ecologically-minded pacifist that is wholly at odds with the period and her position – only recovering some sense of duty by the time of the inevitable bloody showdown finale.
Even this however is not enough to make up for the poor pacing and the unevenness of tone throughout the majority of the film, nor – over-the-top though it certainly is – does it justify the irritatingly bombastic score from Mark Lui. As for who was responsible for lines of Ancient Chinese dialogue from Donnie Yen along the lines of “C’mon then – who wants some of me!”, I suspect that the blame doesn’t lie entirely with the subtitle translators.
The Disc: The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer on Cine Asia’s Region 2 DVD handles the blue-green palette of the film exceptionally well, the image not looking overly processed, but retaining a fine, soft, natural film-like quality. There are no marks on the print and no edge enhancement to speak of, but some flickering of macroblocking artefacts may be evident, with some dot-crawl in the film grain. Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 tracks are included. The stereo track is more direct, but the post-dubbed dialogue is poorly balanced, competing with the overwhelming music score and sound-effects. The surround track handles distribution a little better, but the overall sound is a little bit thin, with no great depth of tone. English subtitles are in a white font and are optional, contained within the image frame. Extras include the film’s Making Of, which is focussed on the admittedly impressive production design and the actors’ preparation, as well as the Original Theatrical Trailer.