Le-Van Kiet‘s The Princess is, based on-premise, a very simple film. The storyline is straightforward, and the setting is almost entirely unvarying. Neither of these things are necessarily detrimental to a film if done correctly. Kiet manages to present a tight, if not wholly interesting, final product. Most of the fault for the film’s shortcomings lie entirely in the hands of its cast. The result is an intriguing Die Hard and Kill Bill hybrid concept that lacks the charisma to make it a classic or the stylish flair to make it stand out.
The film opens with the titular Princess (Joey King) locked in a tower in her wedding dress after refusing the hand of her would-be suitor and royal usurper, Julius (Dominic Cooper, channeling his best Billy Butcher look). From there, she runs a gauntlet through her palace to stop her betrothed from overthrowing the kingdom. Along the way, she uses the training secretly bestowed on her by Linh (Veronica Ngo) to dispatch the hordes of Julius’ men sent to stop her. That’s it. That’s the story. There is no complicated backstory or side quest, and the film is better for its simplicity.
The main issue lies squarely on King’s shoulders. She portrays the Princess as a very breathy, doe-eyed victim. Rather than lean into her character’s power, she seems surprised by it. This results in an unbelievable hour and thirty minutes where her triumphs seem to come from the henchmen’s incompetency rather than her own skill. King had the chance to make the Princess a remarkable female hero, like Tarantino’s the Bride, but instead left little to remark upon once the film is done. The rest of the cast are little more than standard checkbox ticks rather than supporting characters. You have the hapless and stuck-in-his-ways king, the young handsome charmer-turned-villain, the wise old mentor, the generic evil sidekick, and the strong-willed younger sister to add some stakes to act three. Nobody in the cast is outright bad; they are just not given anything to do.
None of this, however, means the movie isn’t fun. As a gauntlet film, seeing the Princess use everything at her disposal to dispatch the baddies is entertaining. The pacing and short runtime keep the film moving and prevent it from dragging. The camera work helps make the sets, primarily castle hallways, seem more dynamic. The violence is brutal without being overly grotesque. The score is serviceable if not memorable.
Ultimately, The Princess offers no more than a chance to see bad guys get laid out by a female protagonist. This doesn’t translate much into feminist empowerment so much as male gaze fulfillment, certainly as can be seen in how layers and layers of the Princess’ dress are ripped off and shed throughout the film’s run time. Instead, the mostly male production team (King is the only woman representative amongst the producers, writer, and director) simply suggests that strength and resolve alone make a female worthy of a higher position within society. There was a missed opportunity for the movie to be something more than a simple medieval beat-’em-up. In the end, simple is not all that bad; it’s just not memorable.