Le-Van Kiet’s fantasy “The Princess” opens in a traditional way, with the trill of Celtic-inspired flutes, a pink sunrise and a slow climb to the top of a spindly tower, where an unnamed princess-bride (Joey King) lies on a bed strewn with rose petals. But here the royal beauty feigns sleep. Five minutes into this sleek yet powerful blood-spattered fable, two enemy guards enter to drag our heroine to the chapel – and she brutally kills them. It’s clear that the classic genre that captivated Kiet and screenwriters Ben Lustig and Jake Thornton does not hark back to old European fairy tales, but rather to the feminist revenge thrillers of the 1970s: exploits and wuxia cinema where warrior women clung to the man. With knives.
The plot is like an arcade game. Her Highness must fight her way down to defeat her naysayer, which includes a tyrannical betrothed (Dominic Cooper), his cruel consort (Olga Kurylenko), and the princess’s own father (Ed Stoppard), an unlucky weakling who believes that he reasoned fascism calmly and wisely. Using sparse dialogue, the film provides a counterpoint: it takes physical force to control the throne. That’s an opinion on which the princess and her vile betrothed can agree.
Long takes highlight both King’s mood (such as when she’s jumping back and forth across a card table to send off a trio of goons) and the admirably creative fight choreography of Stanimir Stamatov and Samuel Kefi Abrikh, which emphasizes quick-thinking defensive moves using making found objects – hairpins, pearls, heads of lettuce – to parry swords, axes, chains, whips and helmets with sharp horns. The high guitar score is a misstep, but a panting, battered King is believable and compelling as she kicks, stabs and screams for the right to choose her own destiny.
Rated R for predatory bloodshed. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes. Check out Hulu.