The classic fairy tale story followed a traditional format of the dashing young hero saving the damsel in distress from the evil villain. These stories are not only predictable, but they are also derivative, lacking any substance. But, of course, times have changed. We are now seeing reimagined fairy tales that see the princess as a physically capable action heroine who proves her worth to those who dare undermine her. And that’s what we get with “The Princess.”
Directed by Le-Van Kiet, King stars the beautiful and strong-willed titular heroine who refuses to wed the cruel sociopathic Lord Julius (Dominic Cooper) to whom she is betrothed. Though her defiance shows her strength, it causes political chaos in the royal kingdom as Julius kidnaps and imprisons the princess in a tower and devises a scheme to kill her father to accelerate his ascent to the throne. Not one to simply bow to someone so evil, the Princess puts her training as a warrior from Linh (Ngô Thanh Vân) to the test as she fights her way from the top to the bottom.
Simply put, “The Princess” is a fun-filled action-pack romp that loosely reimagines the classic princess story with a physically demanding role from Joey King and modern-day storytelling sensibilities. This film is no ordinary princess story. It’s way better than the ones we’re accustomed to because those classic fairy tales inspire it and has more of a female-driven action-packed twist because the title character isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty or a little blood on her dress. It’s an idea and an image that should resonate with those who demand to see more of these characters on screen.
And “The Princess” doesn’t take too long to draw its audience in with its action because that’s where the film starts. Shackled and imprisoned at the top of the tower, we see our princess waking from her drug-induced slumber. Hazy flashbacks don’t give us an idea of how she got to where she is now, but it’s clear that she is there against her will. As such, she will do anything to free herself from her current predicament, even if that means breaking her finger so that she can slide her hand out of her shackles and take out two guards who underestimate her because of her petite frame.
And “The Princess” moves at the pace of a video game, where its playable character changes and levels up as they progress further into the game. In this case, out is down, and the only way to save the day and defeat the evil lord is by slaying knaves, golden knights, brutish executioners, and more. Of course, her actions force Julius to move more of his loyal followers up the tower to vanquish the vigilante. But as The Princess piles up the bodies, we see more of how she became to be and why she should never be underestimated.
Though it’s fun to see these misbehaving princesses act out against authority, one has to wonder what the film could have been like had it had a more vital female creative force. Still, director Le-Van Kiet and writers Ben Lustig and Jake Thornton give us a kickass princess who is not only strong but also has vulnerabilities. And the surrounding world feels tangible and real and surprisingly reflects the world that we live in today because it is diverse. Of course, we probably wouldn’t expect that to see in fairy tale films and tv series of old, but that makes “The Princess” unique and refreshing.
And the best part of all of this is that the action is grounded and exciting. The close camera work reveals that King is heavily involved in much of the action sequences and stunt work. As such, “The Princess” is one of the actor’s most physically demanding roles as she is crossing swords, leaping, climbing, and fighting off against several bad guys who are bigger in size and stature. And a lot of the stunts works with its surrounding environment. This means nothing is too over-the-top when it comes to stunt work, as characters often have to work with heavy swords, leather whips, and tapestry. Sure, some of the questionable CGI takes us out of the moment, but we are brought back in with the grounded action.
Though the pacing is very smooth, the story lacks twists and turns to keep audiences off keel. It’s all too predictable. And there’s hardly any substantial character development because The Princess already knows herself and recognizes her limitations but is still very much a force to be reckoned with. Almost every decision she makes – which is influenced by either her training with Linh or previous conversations with her father – turns out to be the right one. Not that this is entirely a bad thing. It’s great to see King keep up with the physical demands of an action film like this. And while the rebellious defiant young princess is something we’ve seen before, it’s still a refreshing sight to see because it’s the kind of character that exists within the fairy tale space.
So “The Princess” isn’t the typical fairy tale story as it has too much fun playing as a B-rated medieval action thriller. The stylish fight choreography is impressive and proves that women deserve to be in this space as much as men do. But as much fun as it was to watch these women kick ass, it was also great to see the chemistry between King and Van flourish without worrying about their characters falling for a love interest. Flashbacks reveal Linh’s wisdom she bestows upon the princess of fighting with heart, patience and focus, and the importance of knowing the difference between how to fight and what to fight for. Practical lessons, sure, but it has left a viable impact on The Princess, leading her to become the kickass warrior we see on screen. And what becomes of it is entertaining to watch. But it is more impactful for those who connect with the image of a strong and empowered princess who transcends outdated gender roles through defiance and physicality.