Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Review - An Empress and the Warriors (2008 - Dir. Sui-Tung Ching)

It isn't that long since I watched The Warlords and I can't really say that I was looking forward to another historical epic.  Fortunately, the clunkily titled An Empress and the Warriors isn't an historical epic. Well, it is a bit. But it's also got romance, comedy, action, adventure, martial arts and good old war scenes.

It all starts off like a standard issue historical epic though, with a huge battle, the death of an Emperor and mucho political machinations. It is initially disappointing because the acting is so full of rope you could tie a Fisherman's Bend with it. If you feel that way inclined. Which I do. Just give me five minutes... Okay, that's better. The music is another alarming factor. It lurches from overly dramatic to quirky and comedic. It all feels wrong.

But when you finally twig that this film is many things, you realise that it is all a stylistic choice. The titular Empress Yen Feier (Kelly Chen) is threatened by people from her own country, led by Hu Ba (Xiaodong Guo). One minute he tells some dodgy old beardy fellow to take care of her (many shades of Sword and Sorcery here, tick them all off on the Sword and Sorcery Checklist, except there's no sorcery) and then we're straight into an action sequence including leaping masked nutters with blowpipes. There's isn't any slack time in between events apart from a short slow section in the middle of the film.

The film then veers into romance, comedy and whimsy with a sub-plot concerning a doctor, Duan Lanquan (Leon Lai) and a hot air balloon. Eventually, we get back to war scenes and action again, with the Empress' top mate Muyong Xuehu (played by the seemingly never out of work, Donnie Yen of Hero fame) facing off against four soldiers, then a regiment and finally a full army. He doesn't fare too badly either.

There are some gorgeous images within An Empress and the Warriors. The highlight has to be the sewn together air balloon flying over a forest. It looks more like something out of a Terry Gilliam film but it bizarrely still fits in with this mish-mash of styles. 

This was way more enjoyable than I was expecting and although it doesn't hit you emotionally like The Warlords, enough stuff is shoe-horned into ninety minutes to keep you fully entertained. Included in the price is a really clever way of knacking a chariot, if you ever find yourself being charged down by one. Bonus.

If you like this you could also try:
The Warlords, Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Last Hero in China.

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