“The Princess” starts off bumpy, hitting branches of the cliche tree with medieval flutes and mediocre CG castle setting. It gets crazier when we fly through a tower window and find the titular princess (Joey King) lying in bed, Sleeping Beauty style. But the ruse is quickly over, and the film shows its true colors with brutal and exciting badassery.
Two brutal guards have to learn the hard way that this princess isn’t waiting for a prince charming. A Game King springs into action and displays fun combat skills that are anything but time, but who cares? The film has fun earning its R rating. And by the way, king acts her way through battle: the princess can wield a sword and spin and kick like a martial artist, but she’s slim and smaller than her enemies, and King roots the moments in an enduring reality.
The princess was betrothed to the hated Lord Julius (Dominic Cooper) by her very traditional royal father (Ed Stoppard). Dad loves her but has to marry her off to secure the future of the kingdom. When the princess says that a planned life of submission to a cruel, unworthy husband is “like something out of a fairy tale,” it’s clear she’s not talking about a happy ending.
The Princess is an unabashedly feminist action-adventure in which the protagonist rises from her slumber to smash the patriarchy. It couldn’t be more timely, and it’s a good time too.
When the princess rejects her ill-fitting suitor, Julius seizes her (hence the two brutes) and takes over her family’s castle. Once she escapes from her cell, the movie takes the form of the martial arts classic The Raid, in which the protagonist has to fight her way all the way down the tower, through level after level with different enemies. She receives considerable help from friend and combat trainer Linh (Veronica Ngo), leading to the ultimate confrontation with marriage-addicted Julius and his most murderous servant, Moira (Olga Kurylenko).
So how come a medieval damsel in distress tale looks less like Rapunzel and more like The Raid or John Wick? Directed by Le-Van Kiet, a UCLA-educated Vietnamese filmmaker whose martial arts action film Furie (2019) became his country’s most disgusting yet. It was produced by Neal Moritz from “Fast and Furious” and of course Derek Kolstad from the “John Wick” series. ‘The Princess’ never quite reaches the ‘Suck it, Sir Isaac Newton’ level of ‘Fast and Furious’ absurdity, but enjoys the gory, bone-crushing action that will make ‘Wick’ fans shine.
That’s not to say it’s nothing but laffs and slashes. The political messages begin in the exhibition: The sin of the good king in the eyes of the wicked is his inclusivity. The pro-immigrant, multicultural slant also serves the plot as it explains the princess’s martial arts skills.
As Linh, Ngo makes quite an impression. The veteran Vietnamese-Norwegian actress and singer starred in Furie and the previous box-office record-breaker The Rebel. She has appeared in several major US productions (“The Old Guard” as the long-lost Quynh, who is set to be a main character in the now-filmed sequel; “Da 5 Bloods” as Hanoi Hannah; and as Rose Tico’s sister in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”), but this will likely be most American viewers’ first good look at her and her formidable physical abilities. She projects strength and focus and moves with purpose. Every strike has purpose and power.
King’s performance is engaging and she has a finely detailed English accent. The film cheekily closes with an apropos 80s cover, which you might like to guess. This is a rocking girls kick ass movie with heartfelt social messages. They’re clever sometimes: when reviled as a horrific oddity contrary to tradition, the princess (who’s doing well without a man) says, “I was born that way.”
The messages can also be blunt, such as when an opponent says, “I underestimated you,” and the bloodied but not broken princess replies, “That’s fine. I’m used to that.”
Rated: R for strong/bloody violence and some language
Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes
To play: On Hulu on July 1st
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-07-01/princess-hulu-review-joey-king ‘The Princess’ review: Joey King action movie rules