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Review Of “The Princess”: Joey King Disregards Fairy Tale Principles


Except for the princess, almost every character in “The Princess” is given a name. The movie’s anonymous eponymous protagonist, played by “The Kissing Booth” actress Joey King as anything but a passive heroine, isn’t so much a proper character as she is a one-dimensional empowerment symbol.

“The Princess” is the antithesis of every fairy-tale damsel who sat around waiting to be whisked away or married off. In a wedding dress and iron shackles, she starts the movie locked up on the castle’s top floor. By the end, she has shed more blood than Stephen King’s Carrie, some of it her own, but mostly that of all the men who had misjudged her.

The following hour and a half pass with little time for “The Princess” to gather its breath. Whatever your perceptions of the royals named Ariel (she sings!) and Belle (she reads!) may have been, the truth is that this particular princess learned Krav Maga behind her father’s back and is capable of incapacitating a guy twice her size with nothing more than a hairpin.

Screenwriters Ben Lustig and Jake Thornton use a seemingly infinite supply of clichés when it comes to character dialogue. However, they should be commended for successfully tackling a problem that half of Hollywood’s screenwriters have been attempting to solve: how to transform the most archaic female stereotypes into role models for the twenty-first century.

The ensuing R-rated girls-on-top epic, directed by Vietnamese genre master Le-Van Kiet (“Furie,” “The Requin”), is structured like “The Raid,” the single-location Indonesian fight film in which a tiny team of cops hacks their way through a criminally infected tenement building. The princess battles tough new bosses at each level as she descends the high tower of the CG castle after dispatching the two guards who enter to check on our uncooperative bride-to-be.

A he-man with a naked chest and a bull-horned Teutonic helmet make his first halt in a chamber where he stops to take a very long leak.

If the princess’s foes are meant to grow more terrifying as she progresses, then this steroid-wielding freak with a devilish appearance offers a promising beginning: He is large enough to take her down in one strike and is toxic masculinity personified.

It’s realistic to imagine that some viewers will find it rather improbable that King’s princess can compete with such adversaries, but I only had to reflect on Roger Moore’s time playing James Bond to accept it. The frail old British man could hardly punch, and when Moore was supposed to be skiing or skydiving, he was frequently seen pantomiming in front of a rear-projection screen.

Occasionally, audiences simply need to be trained to accept a particular type of action hero (the Alicia-Vikander-as-Lara-Croft effect). King has put in the time for fight training because she is not built at all like the dominatrix-style antagonist from the movie, former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko. The choreography is original, but the environments look phony (looking to be recycled TV sets, unconvincingly stretched with poor CGI). By the end of the first scene, King is as bloody as Bruce Willis was in “Die Hard,” which is the movie’s way of suggesting that even though she is hurt, she doesn’t let it stop her from moving forward.

“The Princess” demonstrates how its protagonist acquired martial arts from Linh (Veronica Ngo) and Khai through a sequence of embarrassing flashbacks (Kristofer Kamiyasu).

The sessions were never approved by her father (Ed Stoppard), who undoubtedly preferred to see his daughter learn useful skills like how to dance the farandole and which fork to use at a dinner table. But now that the savage Lord Julius (a cunning Dominic Cooper) and his whip-wielding right-hand woman Moira (Kurylenko) have invaded his country, he will be happy that the princess chose to take “Atomic Blonde” training instead, learning how to take out a staircase full of thugs in a single take.

Like everyone in the kingdom, Julius intends to wed the princess and ascend to the throne, but he is unable to fathom that she would be capable of resisting him.

The fact that no one takes into account Moira’s journey to save her family from these barbarians as she yells instructions at her male subordinates is to her benefit. In a way, our heroine is battling for causes other than those of her family. She’s laughing off the entire medieval patriarchy, so the movie’s concept of a happy ending is a massive funeral rather than a royal nuptial.

Despite the chivalrous rules, there were also other despicable traditions such as the “droit du seigneur” (where gluttonous nobles availed themselves to local brides). A more intelligent script might have found ways to include a historical critique—or at least some “Shrek”-style satire—into its largely mindless series of set-pieces. “The Princess” isn’t nearly as clever or twisted as 2019’s matrimony-averse “Ready or Not” (from the team behind the recent “Scream” sequel), but it is the kind of counterprogramming that an entire generation of viewers, altar-bound and hypnotized by decades of Disney movies, will find themselves wishing had existed when they were kids — and that plenty of kids will internalize when screening this bloody Hulu original behind their parents’ backs.

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