An Empress and the Warriors (2008)

Reviewed by: j.crawford
Date: 06/16/2012
Summary: bizarre amalgamation

Ching Siu-Tung's An Empress and the Warriors is one bizarre amalgamation of film genres and film making talent that results in a frustrating viewing experience. At first, I thought I was watching a comedy film parody with exaggerated dialogue delivered from under exaggerated suits of Armour. In the second act, the scenario dives head long into a soap opera romance between Kelly Chen and Leon Lai, in an idyllic sequence clearly directed by Yip Wai-Man. The final act jumps into absurdist military epic battle mode with Donnie Yen sword fighting an army of thousands to save the empress, her kingdom, and foster peace around the world.

Frankly, I'm not a fan of these movies that shoot digital video instead of shooting on film. I like my movies to look like movies. This film had a huge $$ budget and the makers compromised on video. Disappointing.

Reviewer Score: 5

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 01/04/2011
Summary: Not Donnie Yen at his best

Tony Ching Siu-Tung had three winners in the hand he dealt himself in “An Empress and the Warriors”: the ability of his technical team and his own recent experience in creating screen filling spectacle; Kelly Chan’s extraordinary beauty (especially her perfect cheekbones) and the martial arts prowess of Donnie Yen. He did a good but not great job with the casts of thousands action scenes; Kelly Chan has never looked better; Donnie Yen was wasted for most of the movie and looked ridiculous in the last few scenes. This is an unsatisfying movie that started well, died in the middle and buried itself in the last act.

Three cinematographers are credited. The one who shot the scenes of Kelly Chan when she was recovering from her wounds in the treehouse surgery of Duan Lan Quan got it exactly right. Using a palette of deep natural tones heavy on brown and dark green with lighting that made the background fade slightly, he did the kind of magic that had the leading ladies of Hollywood insist that only James Wong Howe could do them justice. The costume designers kept her in flexible armor with a helmet or the shapeless remnants of court dress with only her face visible other than the scene in which the dressing on a wound had to be changed. She is a prodigiously beautiful woman and her beauty was showcased in most of her scenes.
The flashy pomp and grandiosity of the massed battle scenes that filled the screen with infantry and cavalry was no better than what one expects. Horsemen with streaming banners on long lances crossing the foreground while the infantry marched and counter-marched behind them has been done a lot—the first I saw it was in Kurosawa’s “Ran” in 1985—and Ching didn’t have anything to add to the grammar of this form of display.

Donnie Yen was really underutilized. He was suited up in armor and kept on horseback for most of the movie; when he was finally unleashed for individual combat armed with a sword and spear it was in a a risible scene in which he had to literally fight an entire army by himself. Toward the end of this mockery of chivalry and martial arts the evil Wa Bu (well villainized by Guo Xiao-Dong) says, after our hero had been pierced by more arrows than St. Sebastian, that he wanted to see how long it would take for him to bleed to death. At least one member of the audience thought that no matter how quickly Muyong Xuehu expired it would take too long.

Reviewer Score: 5

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 07/22/2009
Summary: Decent

As might be expected from a film helmed by Ching Siu-Tung, the action scenes here are great stuff. The big trouble is that there's not enough of them. The movie almost totally falls apart during the second act, which focuses on a melodramatic and heavy-handed romance between Kelly Chen and Leon Lai.

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 04/19/2008
Summary: Average at best

After watching this movie, i felt very empty.

The movie goes along the lines of a some fight scenes, some treachery,love,treachery and then back to fighting.
It felt like it all went by so quickly.

None of the main actors had to stretch there acting abilities, Leon lai always seem to play a country bumpkin type character, Donnie yen is always so serious and over the top, and Kelly chan plays the vunerable hapless princess who has 2 guys that she loves, but one more than the other.

When the fight scenes occurs, with everyone DRESSED as the SAME you cant tell which side they are on. I know its probably historically accurate but if i went to war i would probably be accidently killing my own men!!

The fight scenes themselves where nothing spectacular,with donnie yen acting the one man army as expected.

And i guessed the ending!!

Really there is nothing to recommend here but yet its a watchable for one viewing only!!

Reviewer Score: 5

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 04/02/2008

Ching Siu-Tung has a chequered history as a director - he has been behind some of the finest works in Hong Kong cinematic history (DTTD, ACGS, Swordsman II), but also some of its biggest turkies (Wonder Seven, Naked Weapon). Many have long suspected it's more a case of who he knows than what he knows (in directorial terms - his action and aesthetic sense are rarely doubted).

One of the people he knows is Zhang Yimou, who has used Ching as action director in all his martial art/period movies. Since these have been some of the most successful Chinese language films of the past decade, it's probably not surprising that Ching thought to himself "I'll have a go at that".

AN EMPRESS AND THE WARRIORS feels (and looks) a lot like Zhang's last two historicals, CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS, were put together in a blender and mixed vigorously. There's seasoning from any number of other period epics too, but precious little that's new to the genre.

Ching Siu-Tung does not seem to have a natural talent for creating convincing emotions on screen (when he doesn't have a writer/director like Tsui Hark to guide him) - perhaps he doesn't feel them himself? He is also not known for understanding when subtlety can be used to greater effect than bombast (he doesn't seem to have picked it up from Zhang Yimou). The combined effect of this is that unconvincing emotions are often hammered into the audience's skull with melodramatic music, camerawork and acting - probably not producing the intended response in most viewers.

Speaking of acting, Kelly Chen isn't usually regarded as being any good at it (Leon wasn't either until recently), but has clearly tried hard to improve her range and skill for this project. Whilst she's still not a natural acting talent, she does manage to carry off her character here. An odd casting choice, but somewhat successful.

Production values are of course very high, as is expected of a Chinese historical epic these days, with enormous armies of extras decked out in armour, great sets, beautifully filmed vistas and top notch cinematography and CGI. It goes for a more realistic aesthetic akin to THE WARLORDS or A BATTLE OF WITS than Zhang Yimou's hyper-real looks... with one scene that's a regrettable exception.

A Ching Siu-Tung film is usually assured to have some decent action at the least, though the film's more realistic look does not lend itself to the stylised interpretation of martial arts that he pioneered... there's a lot more grunting and cleaving than flying and posing. The battles are pretty brutal and exciting, but I do miss the more asthetic, impressionist action choreography of the SWORDSMAN II days.

Overall AN EMPRESS AND THE WARRIORS is a film that lacks focus or originality, feeling too much like a "me too!" project. The big budget means that it at least delivers on spectacle, but it really fails on drama. There are too many better examples of the style already out there for this one to be worth too much of anybody's time or attention.

Reviewer Score: 5