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Hulu's 'The Princess' Delivers Its Promise of Graphic But Kid-Friendly Violence

By James Field | Film | July 5, 2022 |

By James Field | Film | July 5, 2022 |


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Long ago, in a far-off kingdom, a nameless princess slept in a tall tower. Chained and alone, she knew her evil fiance, Julius, waited below to force her into marriage and her kingdom into bondage. But when soldiers burst into her room they are shocked to discover that it’s not the waif in the wedding dress who should be afraid…

Director Le-Van Kiet and writers Ben Lustig and Jake Thorton must be fans of T.S. Eliot. I’ve never seen a group take the writer’s well-known quote “good writers borrow, great writers steal” quote to heart so completely. The Princess steals themes, scenes, and throwaway bits from a variety of sources and mashes them all together into an entertaining but shallow action movie that takes less than 3 minutes to begin the violence that continues until the very end. Joey King stars as the nameless heroine, a beautiful, strong-willed, and nearly feral young woman trained in combat by royal advisor Khai (Kristofer Kamiyasu) and attendant Linh (Victoria Ngo) behind the King’s back. All those skills are put to the test as the Princess fights her way to the bottom of the tower, where she will face whip-wielding dominatrix Moira (Olga Kurylenko) and her lover Julius (a scene-devouring Dominic Cooper). Former knight Julius is infuriated that the King has weakened their borders, allowed “outsiders” into the lands, and generally relaxed the monarchy to the point of perceived weakness.

From what does The Princess borrow? Everything. It’s primarily a cinematic video game, a cross between the stealth missions and rhythmic group battles of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and the punishing brutality of Elden Ring, where the protagonist is often up against a single, immensely powerful enemy at a time. Each floor of the tower serves as a mini-boss battle against usually one or two OP combatants who could turn the Princess into paste if she’s not careful. Floors with multiple enemies turn into cat-and-mouse hunts in which the NPCs may as well have visible sightlines as the Princess stealths through rooms and secret passages. A scene where she creeps past a bunch of looting soldiers feels cut directly from AC: Odyssey or Dishonored. Every time she clears a stage we are rewarded with backstory and plot points, none of which matter and mostly focus on her training and friendship (budding romance?) with Linh. The visuals are borrowed from John Everett Millais’s Ophelia, Tangled, The Princess Bride, and every story that contains a helpless princess awaiting rescue. Joey King is the version of Merida that a live-action Brave remake deserves but Disney lacks the stones to film. Like the King and Queen - though not her little sister, Violet (Katelyn Rose Downey) — the Princess lacks a name. She’s a stand-in for every royal young woman held hostage by her parents’ desire for a male heir, valuable only for the lands and connections her arranged marriage will bring. This Princess is not satisfied with that and carves her own path to greatness through as many nameless thugs as necessary.

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The action is well-choreographed and bloody. Eyeballs are stabbed, heads removed, and generally speaking, everyone who deserves it comes to a sticky end. Despite that, the film feels surprisingly PG. If a few of the more graphic deaths were removed or toned down The Princess would be more a Disney Channel YA movie than a gritty orgy of violence like John Wick or Nobody, a fact that plays to its advantage. As I said in my preview, it’s the perfect first R-feature for the preteen set, one free of sexual violence and lacking even coarse language. My 11-year-old daughter adored the movie — she said several times her favorite part was all the killing, which is slightly concerning. She also said it’s the greatest movie of all time, which is concerning in a different way. I’m also pleased to report that despite modern movie makers’ annoying tendency for filming scenes so dark it’s impossible to see anything, The Princess is perfectly lit to show off every sword thrust and arterial spray.

The cast is serviceable if under-developed. Le-Van Kiet knows how to film a great fight scene and King sells it well. She uses her small size to her advantage, and enough improvised weapons to bring a tear to Jackie Chan’s eyes. Veronica Ngo brings the same skill for surgical violence she brought to Kiet’s Furie, in which she played a mother fighting to save her child from traffickers. She’s fierce, crackling with energy, and devoted to the Princess. Dominic Cooper gives Julius’s voice a prissy edge that comes through whenever he’s outraged at the kingdom’s falling standards or the royal family’s refusal to simply do as told. It’s not a difficult role but he sells it and gives his misogynistic demands a comedic tone that plays well. Olga Kurylenko’s Moira is entirely over-the-top, the same homoerotic mixture of sex and violence you’d find in a 1970’s women’s prison sexploitation flick. Little sister Violet is spunky and entertaining in her few scenes. The Queen is supportive and the King is a damp Saltine of a man. Joey King plays the same 95-pound engine of female fury popular since Buffy Summers and River Tam punched their way through the patriarchy. She’s a berzerker in an ever more tattered wedding dress, covered in blood, much of it her own. There’s not much to the character but like early Milla Jovovich, she sells her talent for well-choreographed violence. The Princess is like if Boudicca and Artemisia had a baby and let her be raised by wolves, and King is exactly what the role demands.

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It’s impossible to know how this film would have hit in a pre-Dobbs world. Would the sparse characterization and lack of plot matter more before 6 “Justices” stripped the right to choose from American women? I don’t know. I do know that right now watching young women gain autonomy by carving their way through an army of domineering, predatory men is a delight. It’s not perfect, even by B-movie standards; the kiddo and I agreed that any scenes involving CGI were woefully bad, including a decapitation and an immolation that look terrible even by SyFy standards. There’s also a fat joke that runs the entire length of the movie and feels unnecessarily mean; a strange complaint given the body count, perhaps, but it still bugged me. The proto-lesbian subtext between Linh and the Princess was appreciated, as was the message of acceptance for women “born this way,” but warranted more attention.

My predictions are rarely accurate, but I was absolutely correct when I called The Princess the next generation’s first R-rated feature. Suitable for nearly everyone, including preteens, it succeeds more than it fails thanks to Kiet’s eye for balletic violence and King & Ngo’s chemistry, and doesn’t need to be good to be great. With its tightly choreographed action and shallow but fierce message of self-acceptance and bodily autonomy, The Princess is destined for the comfort movie hall of fame.






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Header Image Source: Hulu screenshots