In most stories, a princess trapped in tower will need a man to save her. Joey King’s unnamed Princess isn’t like that. Furie director Le-Van Kiet’s actioner attempts to take a female lead and invert The Raid, with her facing off against a seemingly unending phalanx of enemies as she descends the tower where she’s being held captive, prior to her wedding to the evil and ambitious Julius (Dominic Cooper).
Initially, the presence of Joey King and the fact that this film (in the UK) would be launching on Disney+ made me think it would essentially be Enchanted with swords; a stereotypical Disney princess finally fighting back violently. Kiet and writers Ben Lustig and Jake Thornton lean into this a little in the film’s opening, which springs The Princess’ fighting skills on us when guards come to her room. Even here though, there’s an immediate retreat from anything cartoony, as she dislocates her thumb to escape her cuffs; just the first sign that the violence is going to be pretty full-blooded.
Enchanted with swords might have been fun, but that not to say The Princess isn’t. Flashbacks fill in the backstory of her training, with Lien (Furie’s Veronica Ngo) and Khai (Swedish/Japanese actor Kristofer Kamiyasu) teaching her in secret, because her father the King (Ed Stoppard) would disapprove. The dialogue here, and as the story of her rebellion against the place her role is meant to inhabit in the world advances, is basic. Lustig and Thornton’s screenplay veritably yells its themes at us, and there’s not enough dimension to the Princess (for the love of God, give her a name), to make her much more than a Strong Female Character™.
Joey King does what she can with the part. She holds the centre of the film and the frame well, and acquits herself solidly in the action sequences. There’s clearly some doubling, but credit to coordinator Kefi Abrikh and King’s doubles, it’s well done, and King is obviously doing as much of the action as she can herself. Kiet makes her look good, too, especially in the opening, and in an entertainingly choreographed fight with a huge opponent with a horned helmet. While both King and the action sequences seem largely to grow in confidence and style throughout the film, the star is somewhat overshadowed in the second half of the film, as Veronica Ngo joins the action. Ngo clearly works well with Kiet, and the camera sometimes favours her, giving her some of the film’s most stylish and impactful moments of action, particularly as she takes on all comers with a double bladed staff. It’s all good stuff, but it puts the film a little off-balance.
Like King, the rest of the cast do decent enough work in limited roles. Dominic Cooper has fun as a snarling villain, while Olga Kurylenko is well matched to King and Ngo as the second tier villain, wielding a pretty imposing bladed whip. The bloodshed is kept to what seems like a relatively light R/15, but there’s some intensity to the fights, especially as things ramp up into the last half hour or so. Where the action falls down is in the use of CGI. It’s not terrible (apart from some truly awful fire), but it’s too noticeable, and takes you out of what should be impactful moments when it’s used.
On the whole, The Princess finds both strength and weakness in how overwhelmingly basic it is. The action, though fun, isn’t quite impressive or original enough to carry the thin writing and characters, but equally, there are a lot of fun, cool moments within those action sequences, and enough of the fighting is carried off impressively that we’re never too far from another nicely choreographed bit of punching and kicking. Sometimes that’s, just about, enough.