Friday, 2 January 2015

An Empress and the Warriors (2008)

My first reaction to that film was "Hmm, that title doesn't parse right to me."  I prefer the alternate option (The Iron Empress).

With that very important issue out of the way, how's the film?  Well, I can tell you exactly when I knew I was going to like it.  You see, about twenty minutes in there's an extended training sequence where the Empress is learning to fight.  She does pretty well, all told, but her trainer - an old friend of hers - is never satisfied with her performance.  She spends a lot of time getting knocked in the dirt as he hectors her, demanding she work harder, fight better, and never give up.

In a lot of movies, this would lead to a scene where she complains about his behavior and he or someone else points out that this is tough love, and is for her own good, because enemies are all around her and he just wants to keep her safe.

In this movie, however, it leads to a scene where she goes to him and says "I have a friend who has always been kind to me.  Now he must be harsh, and I just wanted you to know that I understand he is only doing what he must".  It was really nice to see the script give her the maturity to do that, and even nicer to see the way the actors in the scene gave it the gravitas it needed. Good stuff.

The rest of the film will show that there are indeed enemies all around the Empress, while also exploring the conflict between our sense of duty to others and our desires for ourselves.  It's not the most cheery of films at times; in fact I'd say that the overall tone is definitely in the vicinity of bitter-sweet.  So it probably won't be to all tastes.  But I really liked the lead performers, and I liked the characters they were playing.  They were genuinely good people without being annoyingly naive or implausibly saint-like.

I also generally liked the fight scenes in this, though ironically I enjoyed the climactic sequences the least.  The earlier scenes of the battle against Zhao and the treehouse fight (you'll know it when you see it, if you watch the movie) were the stand-outs for me.

If you don't mind your movies with a bit of melancholy, this is a good one.

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