Ching Siu-tung is known to most for his exquisite Chinese Ghost Story trilogy as well as a popular choreographer in numerous worldwide hits, but he had not had a hit as a director for many years. The Empress And The Warriors blends light-wuxia elements within a more authentic historical context and sees epic battle scenes and martial arts set pieces wrapped around a simple love triangle and the tale of a woman trying to restore peace between warring nations. There isn’t anything particularly original in the plot or the way it is told, but for both those new to this type of cinema and veterans there is plenty to enjoy.
Kelly Chan gives a great performance as the young ruler of one of China’s many kingdoms, forced into rulership after her father is killed and under the tender guidance of Donnie Yen as the fearsome General Murong. Chan isn’t the typical lilting beauty, and is willing to throw herself headlong into danger and warfare to protect her nation, and it is during one of these encounters that she is gravely injured and later ‘rescued’ by Leon Lai as Duan – a loner who leaves deep in a forest unwilling to get involved with the problems of mankind. As she heals her body, her mind wishes to return to fight for her kingdom, but her heart yearns for the peaceful life with Duan. Naturally war finds its way to her and more swordplay ensues.
As expected, we have artful, breathless action with superb choreography, but we also get a stellar cast, beautiful shots, and powerful soundtrack. As mentioned above, the plot isn’t too convoluted – a mixture of standard revenge and romance which should not alienate any newcomers, and the action is swift without being overblown – veterans will enjoy seeing Donnie Yen suiting up and recognise that it’s a return to form for the director. Not a masterpiece by any means, but still a strong action movie with plenty of heart.
Have you caught this ‘little known in the West’ movie? How do you think it holds up against other martial arts epics? Let us know in the comments!