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An Empress and the Warriors(2008)
Set during the Warring States Period,the story centers on Princess Fei'er who is commanded by her dying father on the battlefield to defend their country with General Xuehu. The princess is later attacked and injured by the treacherous official Wu Ba, but is rescued by Duan Lanquan, whom she falls in love with. Faced with continued attack from outside and within, the princess must make some important decisions to ensure the survival of herself and her country.
For more about An Empress and the Warriors and the An Empress and the Warriors Blu-ray release, see An Empress and the Warriors Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on August 11, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Donnie Yen, Guo Xiao Dong, Kou Zhen Hai, Kelly Chen, Leon Lai
Director: Ching Siu-Tung
» See full cast & crew
An Empress and the Warriors Blu-ray Review
The Chinese folktale of Mulan is revisited in this visually sumptuous film.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, August 11, 2010
When Walt Disney reclaimed their magical animation kingdom with the release of Beauty and the Beast in 1991, it heralded a new era of family entertainment, though it often seemed individual films were geared more toward either a young male or young female audience. If a film like Beauty and the Beast appealed to the Belle in every little girl, and later releases like Pocahontas reached out to a feminine audience, films like Aladdin, The Lion King, Hercules and Tarzan may have had more of a natural masculine demographic. Most of these movies, despite being perhaps slightly skewed toward one gender, did incredible business, and several of them have rightfully attained the status of classic. Somewhat lost in the shuffle of Disney's 1990's animated releases is the underappreciated Mulan, a film that never seemed to fully capture the imaginations of either young boys or young girls, perhaps since it featured a cross-dressing heroine, in itself a gender bending artifice that may have sat uncomfortably with younger audiences attempting to deign their own sexual identities. As in many Disney films, the source material for Mulan actually stretched back into folktales of yore, in this case a twelfth century poem recounting the adventures of one Hua Mulan (which was evidently based on a story from the sixth century), which went on to become adapted into all sorts of Chinese fare which were somewhat prescient in their ideas of gender equality and feudal "grrl power." Mulan made her way into films long before Disney's take on the story, with a slew of Chinese releases dating back to the late 1920's. Though it's not explicitly cast from the same material as previous Mulan efforts, as expert commentator Bey Logan makes clear in one of the extras on the new Blu-ray release of An Empress and the Warriors, there's no debating the fact that this particular film plays on the Mulan legend, casting a winsome young princess, Yan Feier (Kelly Chan), as the unexpected military head of her Yan Dynasty upon the wounding, and later assassination, of her father. Like Disney's Mulan, however, An Empress and the Warriors attempts to balance a sort of "chick flick" ethos, with long, langorous shots of doomed sylvan lovers, against a more violent wuxia martial arts setting that leaves the film tonally unbalanced even as individual elements can be quite engaging.
In ancient China, war has been riven by generations of civil war. Feier's Yan kingdom has repeatedly been attacked by its rivals, the Zhao, and the film opens with a furious battle which seriously wounds Feier's father. Though her father wants to appoint Feier's childhood friend Xuehu (Donnie Yen) as his successor, a Machiavellian soldier named Wu Ba (Guo Xiaodong) has other plans, "helping" the wounded King meet his fate, and then attempting to get the throne for himself. He's momentarily waylaid from that goal by Xuehu positing Feier as the rightful heir, despite her gender, a choice which temporarily brings warring factions within the Yan to order, uniting behind their newly anointed feminine leader. Wu Ba is not easily swayed from his ambitions, however, and plots to kill Feier, leading to her being seriously wounded by a poison dart while in the gorgeous Chinese forest. She's rescued by an enigmatic hermit cum medical man named Dan Lanquan (Leon Lai), who nurses her back to health in his fanciful quasi-Swiss Family Robinson treehouse even as Wu Ba consolidates power, claiming that Feier has abandoned her throne and run away.
Part of what ails An Empress and the Warriors is readily apparent in the above paragraph: this is a film that lurches uneasily from battle to romance with nary a pause in between. The film starts out like gangbusters, with a pewter-hued, rain-soaked battle scene which then moves artfully into the internecine jockeying for position within the Yan kingdom. Once Feier is wounded, however, we're suddenly in the midst of a burgeoning love story in a whimsical locale, and An Empress struggles fitfully with some pseudo-philosophical ruminations about war, love and destiny which bring the film pretty much to a screeching, if rather beautifully lensed, halt. Also adding to the problems are some comedy bits which seem oddly out of tune with the violence and mayhem we've witnessed in the film's opening segments.
What does work here are the visuals, impressively delivered by director Ching Siu-tung. Though the story and even style themselves are redolent of a number of relatively recent films coming out of China, Ching frames both the battle and romance sequences with a sure hand, even though some curmudgeons may decry the schmaltziness of the love angle and the gimmicks (like step printing) utilized in the battles. An Empress and the Warriors nonetheless is handsomely mounted, with an extremely impressive production design and some jaw dropping location work, especially in the forest scenes where Feier and Lanquan find true, if fleeting, love.
Though Chinese film fans often complain of bloated, overlong stories which pad their running times to sometimes insane lengths, An Empress and the Warriors actually could have benefited from some elaboration, especially in the segues between the sylvan interludes and the fighting scenes. A bit more time spent on character development would have given the audience more investment in the story and made Feier especially more than just a symbolic cipher. As it stands, An Empress and the Warriors is too discursive for its own good, hitting its main points too quickly and cursorily to ever fully involve the viewer. It still manages to be engaging largely as a result of some impressively staged battle elements and the really gorgeous work in the fanciful forest setting. Much like Disney's Mulan, however, this may ultimately turn out to be a film which never completely connects with either its romance-starved female demographic or its battle-lusting male one.
An Empress and the Warriors Blu-ray, Video Quality
There are two noticeable problems with An Empress and the Warrior's AVC encoded 1080p image (in 2.35:1) which keep this otherwise excellent transfer from a higher score, namely omnipresent shimmer and some relatively more minor edge enhancement. Shimmer crops up incessantly on the ornately sculpted headgear the warriors wear, and often on the geometrically patterned chainmail which adorns their breastplates and armor. Edge enhancement is noticeable on such "usual suspects" as backlit spears held up in front of the sky. If you can get past these two artifacting issues, what's left is a solid looking piece, with some exceptional detail and some very appealing colors, all well saturated. While the opening scenes of the movie are cast in shades of gray, once Feier escapes to the forest, things move into a beautiful, and often very subtly gradated, green palette. Contrast and black levels are very good throughout the film, and overall, despite some annoyances, An Empress and the Warriors looks quite sumptuous indeed.
An Empress and the Warriors Blu-ray, Audio Quality
While there is no lossless audio on this Blu-ray, the combo Mandarin-Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 track is a fairly robust affair, especially in the vigorous battle scenes, which literally ooze LFE and some great quicksilver sword hitting sword effects. The battle segments do offer a goodly amount of immersion, with thundering hooves and the pelt of rain filling the soundfield appealingly. More subtle, but quite effective, are some ambient effects in the quieter forest scenes between Feier and Lanquan. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix actually offers above average dubbing (that of course being a relative term) and the same overall mix of foley effects. While it's a shame that a film with these explosive battle elements didn't get a lossless track (especially when lossless offerings were evidently provided on some foreign releases), the DD 5.1 track is a robust, if somewhat compressed sounding, affair which shouldn't inordinately disappoint too many listeners.
An Empress and the Warriors Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
These Dragon Dynasty releases have been kind of hit or miss in the supplements department. An Empress and the Warriors benefits from yet another really good commentary by Bey Logan, but falters with only one other extra, a standard (and SD) EPK-fest Making Of featurette (23:37).
An Empress and the Warriors Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
An Empress and the Warriors has a bit too much of "been there, seen that" to ever fully excite and engage the audience. Nonetheless, it's an often gorgeous film to watch and it features appealing performances by its four leads. This is a film which doesn't seem to quite know what it wants to be, sort of like Mulan herself, so perhaps that's fitting. If you can get past some tonal shifts that are more than a bit jarring, An Empress and the Warriors offers some sumptuous visual delights that help to overcome a lot of these faults, and the film comes recommended.
An Empress and the Warriors Blu-ray, News and Updates
• August Blu-ray Wave from Vivendi - May 20, 2010
In an early announcement to retailers, it has been revealed that, on August 10, Vivendi Visual Entertainment will release four Asian films as part of its Dragon Dynasty collection: An Empress and the Warriors (Kwong saan mei yan, 2008); Invisible Target (Naam yi ...
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