An Empress and the Warriors
A loose remake of the Shaw Brothers classic The Kingdom and the Beauty infused with bits of the story from the legend of Mulan, An Empress and the Warriors features a lot of star power both in front of and behind the camera. It would seem to have all the elements of a successful historical epic and, in fact, it does provide great entertainment at points. But a dependence on heavy-handed melodrama ultimately keeps An Empress and the Warriors from becoming a truly outstanding movie.
The story takes place in ancient China, where various kingdoms are vying for control of the country. Kelly Chen plays Feier, who has been made the leader of the Yan people after the death of her father. Taking orders from a woman doesn't set well with some of the Yan, who hatch an assassination plot. Poisoned and left for death, Feier is brought back to life by Duan (Leon Lai), a doctor who is hiding a mysterious past. Feier and Duan being to fall in love, but Feier realizes she must return to her people, and so she teams with her childhood sweetheart, Muyong (Donnie Yen), to take out the Yan's internal and external enemies.
There's nothing wrong per se with the plot itself, but An Empress and the Warriors suffers from bad pacing. After a fairly exciting first act, things nearly grind to a halt during the second, which almost solely concentrates on the growing relationship between Feier and Duan. Now, there's nothing wrong with characterization in a film like this, and it is admirable that the film-makers were trying to do something a bit different with the historical epic, which seems to be the favored genre of both Hong Kong and Chinese productions as of late. But while both Kelly Chen and Leon Lai seem to be really trying, the onscreen results simply come off as hammy and cheesy -- something you want in a sandwich, not in a movie.
Thankfully, things do bounce back during the final act, which features some outstanding action work from Ching Siu-Tung. The battle scenes aren't as good as some recent entries like Red Cliff, but they're exciting enough that you might just be able to forgive the clunkiness of the expostion that preceeded them. At the end of the day, despite its' problems, An Empress and the Warriors still should satsify fans of Chinese historical epic pictures -- it just might leave them more than bit disappointed, though, especially given the pedigree of the people involved in the production.
Dragon Dynasty's DVD does a solid, if unspectacular, job in presenting the movie. The menus aren't anything fancy, but serviceable enough to navigate around. The picture is very nice for the most part, with sharp edges and good color saturation. As for the soundtrack, the Dolby 5.1 mix works well on both the original Mandarin and new English dub. The subtitles are easy to read and solidly translated for the most part.
What takes this DVD down a notch compared to most of Dragon Dynasty's other releases are the extras, or rather, the lack of them. There are only two included: a decent twenty-five minute making-of featurette, and a commentary from Dragon Dynasty regular Bey Logan. Neither extra adds a whole lot to the experience, but they're nothing terrible, either. Overall, if you're looking for a copy of this movie on DVD, this should fit the bill if you're not expecting too much bang for the buck.
The Blu-Ray suffers from the same issues. In fact, it has exactly the same extras as the DVD version. The movie itself is shown well, with the English and Mandarin Dolby 5.1 soundtracks from the DVD put to good use, but it would have been nice if things were sweetened up a bit. The picture is 2.35:1 1080p and looks great for the most part. But with the lack of any new features, if you already have the DVD version, there's really no reason to rush out and upgrade to the Blu-Ray.