'The Princess': Joey King and Some Great Action Sequences Rescue This Violent Fairy Tale
There is something refreshing about how simple The Princess is. It doesn't try to be overly complicated, it doesn't overstay its welcome, and it gets right to the point. Most mainstream action movies these days tend to either be big-budget blockbusters or are lower budget, but have plenty of excellent stunts and combat sequences to draw audiences in. The Princess is more in line with the latter category, and that's one of the things that helps it the most. Despite this, the film itself feels like it is pulling some punches, and while it has some great action sequences, the rest of the film isn't quite the crowning achievement it sets out to be.
The film begins with the titular Princess (played by Joey King) waking up to find herself locked away in a tower. We soon find out that she has been kidnapped and put here for refusing to wed a sociopathic man that she was betrothed to. Knowing that this man wants to usurp the throne, she soon finds herself fighting to save the kingdom. Given that the film clocks in at a tight 94 minutes, the film wastes little time unfolding its narrative. However, the narrative itself isn't anything overly complex, and is somewhat thin when you really examine it. This both helps and hurts the film, as its simplicity keeps it from being bogged down by any lore or unnecessary plot elements, but it also leaves little to latch on below the surface. I'm not saying that this film needed to be full of social commentary, but a little more substance wouldn't have hurt.
Of course, the film makes up for a light script with its style and setpieces. The kinetic energy of the fight sequences may not be quite as strong as it could have been, but it is still incredibly effective. The film feels heavily inspired by the 2011 action film The Raid, which follows a team of commandos infiltrating a high-rise building. The Princess follows a similar structure, as our protagonist fights her way through the tower over the course of the film. The swordfighting is quite impressive, and the way that the film blends this with martial arts makes the action as a whole rather exciting to watch. The film did advertise itself as being a bit more violent than it actually is, which has me wondering if the film was originally geared toward a younger audience or if director Le-Van Kiet was told to tone down the violence from the studio. Either way, it feels like the film is holding back a little, but it doesn't feel overly tame.
This film acts as a showcase for Joey King, who gives a solid performance here. I never would have thought that she would make a film like this, but after watching it, I wouldn't mind seeing her do more action movies in the future. She portrays the headstrong nature of The Princess so well, and brings a great sense of determination to the character that fuels her firey nature. She is also great in the fight sequences, and I'd be curious to know just how much of her own stunts she did. Either way, this is one of her best performances, and she elevates the film quite a bit. I was also impressed with Olga Kurylenko, who has quietly become one of our more reliable action stars. She nails the fight sequences, and while her character is a bit underwritten, she has such a great presence on screen that makes up for it. I also need to shout out Veronica Ngo, who plays The Princess's mentor, Linh. She does fit into the wise trainer archetype a little, but she makes the character her own, and is definitely someone who I'd like to see more of in the future.
The Princess may be a decent action movie, but it doesn't have much to it beyond that. The setpieces and fight choreography is solid, for sure, but there just isn't as much to connect with beyond this. That said, I can see this catching on with others, and if you're in the market for a mindless action film, this could definitely scratch that itch. I can't help but feel this film would have been a bigger hit if it were released in theaters, as it would serve as some entertaining counter-programming against some of the summer's more high-profile offerings. This isn't surprising given that Disney has punted a lot of the 20th Century Studios films they've acquired to streaming, but it's still a bit disheartening. This film isn't perfect by any means, and I personally am not exactly blown away by it, but it at least feels original and has its own personality. Regardless, this film is rather entertaining, and while it may fall short in terms of its script, it is nice to see a nice, simple action movie that knows what it is, and embraces it. It might not be the most groundbreaking film ever made, but it is a fun time, nonetheless.