An Empress and the Warriors (2008)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2011-01-04
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