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An Empress and the Warriors

A Hong Kong movie directed by Ching Siu Tung.

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2 ½ Stars: DECENT ACTION...But The Uninspired Script Just Fumbles Everything Else!

  • Jul 29, 2009

2008 seems to be the year for Chinese epic dramas. "An Empress and the Warriors" was released before the "Romance of Three Kingdoms" related films by Daniel Lee (Three Kingdoms) and John Woo (Red Cliff). The film is helmed by Tony Ching Siu Tang (Naked Weapon) and if you are familiar with this director's past works, you'll know that he is a good action director. However, I do believe the skill of good storytelling eludes him--"An Empress and the Warriors" is pure brainless fun, with decent production values and may well be a good "date" movie.

After the kingdom of Yan is mortally wounded after a battle with the Zhao army, the king chooses to leave command to an orphan, named Muyong Xuehu (Donnie Yen) who is not related to the royal family. This bold decision raises the ire of Hu Ban (Guo Xiao-Dong), the king's nephew who is ready and willing to lead. Yan Feier (Kelly Chen) is the king's daughter and was bestowed the sacred "Swallow sword" (I know!) as her father's dying wish, to give to Muyong. However, when the time came to announce Muyong's promotion, Hu Ban and Diao Erbao renounces the claim saying that the king should not be one with no royal blood in his veins. To keep the peace and avoid mutiny, Feier seizes power with Muyong's support--and undergoes military training to prove her worthiness to lead. Hu Ban plots to discredit the princess before she is crowned as the empress, assassination is even an option --a power struggle threatens to weaken the foundations of the Yan Kingdom.

I'm not sure how to begin, the film's plot is so flimsy and uninspired. It abandons the potentials of a conspiracy during a period when leadership is important in favor of a budding romance between Feier and Duan (played by Leon Lai) which makes rather fun but definitely predictable and boring. The character of Feier does look like a princess but the way she is portrayed by the script is rather silly and lacks credibility. Kelly Chen does look like a beautiful princess, but the kind that would act in a disney movie. The script by James Yuen Sai-sang is also very light, the threat of destruction is overshadowed by romance? I'm not sure, Feier and Muyong kept on referring to her as the "one to unite the country" but just what is this "Yan Kingdom"? All that came to view are buildings and shacks and aside from the ninjas and Duan, no common folk is visible. I do feel that the war backdrop is just meant as a plot device to gain sympathy and to set up the scenes of overdone sentimentality.

While I also disliked its use of the usual histrionics, the film does have some charm. However, unbelievable and stylish Kelly Chen's training sequences with Donnie Yen, it has somewhat diverting. However, the film abandons this device rather quickly and falls to the usual romantic gimmicks. The romance between Duan and Feier may be nice to the female species but it just kills the film's overall impact. I thought I was in a dumb teen flick, and while the screenplay has the usual elements of loyalty, sacrifice, duty, compassion and betrayal, it never executed them well enough and opted for a perfunctory romance to add complications to its premise of a "threatened kingdom". The storyline just wasn't interesting and lacked inspiration, the film isn't compelling and interesting.

The acting for the most part is a mixed bag. Kelly Chen is very pretty and charismatic but I had some reservations as to how convincing she was as a strong-willed princess. I would give her the benefit of a doubt since the script is so dry that it gave her so little to work with. Her acting is very cute and charming, her interactions with the tree-dwelling Duan may appeal to the female audience, but it suffers from a lack of consistency that doesn't fit into the film's plot. The film does have huge continuity issues and feels undercooked. Donnie Yen will be Donnie Yen--complete with his overacting.

Now as for the action sequences, there are quite a good number of them. Director Tony Ching knows his stuff when shooting action sequences. He uses multiple camera angles and the moves are visually impressive. The ninja-like assassins and the chase sequences were very cool. The assault in the tree-home of Duan is fast-paced and stylish, complete with cool close-ups with attitude. The battle scenes were decent but not in the same caliber as other Chinese epics of this kind. There is some blood as folks are stabbed and impaled in some very sensitive places. The action has a lot of posturing with attitude complete with the wind blowing strands of hair. Donnie Yen is a very showy actor but none can deny that he does have a presence as a martial artist. Yen is complete with bone-crushing machismo as he fights hundreds of Hu Ban's foot soldiers in the final act. Truly exaggerated and unrealistic appeal for an epic but good enough for an action movie.

So what is the final verdict? Well, the usual stereotypical Hong Kong "cuteness" just would never match the tone and feel of Mainland China's epic Wuxia films. You can tell that the film should have a serious tone and to incorporate a cute romance into its premise just bores the heck out of me. The action choreography does prove diverting and all it all the film is just a practice of a mainstream stylish action flick. The leads are definitely photogenic and the visuals were decent; this film is definitely geared to fans of these performers who would watch anything they appear in. "An Empress and the Warriors" is just another of those stupid commercial flicks that should be watched with VERY low expectations. It is watchable for 90 minutes but definitely a forgettable experience; it just fails in comparison to the best China has to offer.

Rental [2 ½- Stars] 
Dragon Dynasty Cover Donnie Yen Battle scene Ninjas?

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November 22, 2010
It seems i liked this one just a little more than you but we are saying the same thing. The script could have used some more work, especially with the romantic scenes, the conspiracy angle could have been better used.
November 23, 2010
This had great potential but the producers opted to use HK cutesy romantic vehicles that annoyed me. Thanks, Alex!
July 30, 2009
Still climbing up the list. I should like it more than you did since I haven't seen as many as you have. I'm over dosing on Bollywood right now and should be in the mood for something with a different flavor very soon.
August 02, 2009
Yeh, I have seen a lot of this type of films. can we expect a Bollywood review anytime soon? I'd like to check them out if you can give me a few good recs...
August 02, 2009
It all depends on what you think you might like. I'm all for the goofy, fun loving stuff, but I really like the period pieces best of all. I think ASOKA which I reviewed some time ago might be a good place to start, the silliness level is there but it's kept to a minimum. They do break into song and dance frequently however. If you're looking for something more in the line of serious cinema I think maybe HEY RAM which is definitely still Bollywood but tackles the serious subject of the termoil created by Indian independenca and the new Pakistani state. A much better treatment of the same subject that would not be considered as "Bollywood" but still Hindi cinema would be FIRE, EARTH, or WATER a loose trilogy of films I've just started watching out of order. I also reviewed OM SHANTI OM which is a great piece of pure fluff and a lot of fun that to me epitomizes Bollywood.  Then there's JODHAA AKBAR which I have been wanting to review. It's sort of a lush romantic epic of a Mogul king who becomes Emperor after taking a Hindu wife. The kicker is he allows her to keep her religion and have a shrine in her quarters. It caused a big to do upon its release. I must warn you to bring your patience because these are very different from the Asian films to which you're accustomed. They clock in at just under 3 hours for the most part and they have their own idea of pacing.
August 03, 2009
Hey, thanks, Karen! I think I'll try to check out Jodhaa Akbar and HEY RAM, it sounds like they're my style. I think I've only seen one Bollywood flick and it was some sort of cop-killer film. I'll make sure to bring my patience, and take a break if I feel that I'm feeling disconnected to the film.
August 04, 2009
Don't fast forward through the musical numbers since they are half the charm of the whole Bollywood experience. I still think that ASOKA is a good place to start since was the first Bollywood flick to be widely distributed in the US.
August 04, 2009
Will do. Don't worry I am pretty open-minded and I probably won't review any of those flicks unless I develop a familiarity to their style. I will give ASOKA a shot. BTW, I tried e-mailing you, but it couldn't be sent at all. I got a 'failure notice'.
August 04, 2009
That's weird. It's karenshaub@wowway.com which certainly isn't very complicated.
August 04, 2009
yep. I tried but I was unsuccessful twice. I wonder if Trashie's e-mail went through?
August 04, 2009
I have had several emails from Trashie in the past. But as I recall I had 1 from you too. Sometimes I cancel them out by accident as I go through those that are just notications and that may have been what happened to yours.
August 04, 2009
Trashie e-mailed us earlier. Take a look...
August 04, 2009
If you mean his recent problems with censorshirp, then I've already read it. Funny though, because I was the first of us to encounter troublte with censorship in regards to a title of a review. And I suppose I can understand it when it relates to a title because it's out there for everyone to see and not within the body of a review itself.
August 04, 2009
Then I'm the only one having difficulties in emailing you. I do see that, it can be tricky although someitmes edgy titles are more eye-catching than others which is why your review gets read more. Before I forget, I dropped a review for the winner of Best Foreign Language film in the 2009 Oscars and a horror-black comedy I rated 5 stars. I know they're your cup of tea...
August 04, 2009
I'm headed that way, althought this time I started with Trashie. You're second on the list. I think the sleeping pills might kick in and I might not get to you until tomorrow.
August 04, 2009
this is cool. It's almost as we're 'instant messaging" each other. I may read one more review then I'm off to hit the sack myself. Good night, my queen.
August 04, 2009
I'm about to call it quits too. Good night, Woop.
More An Empress and the Warriors reviews
review by . September 05, 2010
posted in ASIANatomy
      AN EMPRESS AND THE WARRIORS      Let me say from the start of this that this is indeed a good movie, it is far from perfect but it is a good film. "An Empress and the Warriors" is a wonderfully done and shot some what epic war film that really is a romance at heart. That is kinda were the flaws are in this film, it did not pick what it wanted to be. Or better yet I feel that it failed in blending the different styles together perfectly. Still …
Quick Tip by . September 23, 2010
posted in ASIANatomy
   "An Empress and the Warriors" is a wonderfully done and shot some what epic war film that really is a romance at heart. Flawed and not sure what film it really wants to be, but good.
review by . September 14, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
I was pleasantly surprised that this wasn't just another Chinese action movie, but rather had a more interesting plot. Except for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, most of those fighting movies are eminently forgettable. Sometimes I get sick of mindless gore in such movies. An Empress and the Warriors is different. The movie is more of a love story set in a mythical ancient China. The empress is about to accede to the throne after her father dies, but she is soon diverted by an enemy army. She is …
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About this movie


In the tradition of Seven Swords comes the action saga of a kingdom locked in a desperate battle for survival. Martial arts superstar Donnie Yen (Seven Swords) and Hong Kong Film Award winners Kelly Chen (Infernal Affairs) and Leon Lai (Seven Swords) team up as sword-wielding heroes on a quest to unite a divided nation and wage a massive war against an invading horde. Created by the celebrated action choreographer and cinematographer behind Jet Li’sHeroandHouse of Flying Daggers,An Empress & the Warriorstakes epic action to new heights.

Stills from An Empress and the Warriors (Click for larger image)

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Director: Ching Siu Tung
Genre: Action, Adventure
DVD Release Date: July 21, 2009
Runtime: 99 minutes
Studio: The Weinstein Company
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