t's probably wise not to expect too much from a movie
based on a manga comic book, or even if it has that manga-inspired feel to it.
The Japanese action movie "Versus"
and the Hong Kong film "A
Man Called Hero" prove this notion out. Maybe in their original forms
(if one existed) the stories had a deeper meaning, even a more extensive
background. But in movie form, too many subplots and exposition are hopelessly
condensed -- or just missing altogether, giving the feeling of incompleteness.
"Princess Blade" stars Yumiko Shaku as Yuki, the
last heir to a troupe of elite assassins who still uses swords instead of modern
weapons. Although the assassin Byakurai (Kyusaku Shimada) is in command of the
gang, it's Yuki and her bloodline that the rest of the gang honors. But when
Yuki learns that Byakurai was responsible for killing her mother, who had wanted
to dissolve the organization for good, Yuki flees her former comrades. She finds
shelter with Takashi (Hideaki Ito), a footsoldier in a terrorist movement
determined to bring change to the present government. After some mutual
distrust, Yuki and Takashi eventually comes to depend on each other, but of
course, the past is not easily abandoned…
True to its pedigree, "Princess Blade" is high on
style. Act One is all action, as Yuki discovers Byakura's secret, tries to kill
him, fails, and flees with the rest of her gang in pursuit. Act Two pulls a fast
one and lowers the action level to almost none; it's really a 20-minute
interlude where Yuki and Takashi learn to come to terms with their past and
discover their commitment to each other and a future without bloodshed. Act
Three brings the action back to the forefront, ending the film in a flurry of
blood and slashing swords.
The action in "Princess Blade" was choreographed
by Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen ("Iron
Monkey"), whose signature is all over the swordplay and high-flying
stunts. Although much of "Princess" is kept ground-leveled, the use of
wireworks does creep in every now and then. For the most part the action is very
exciting, and there are two scenes that just scream brilliance. One is early in
the film when Yuki battles a gun-wielding would-be-target who fires his gun at
her; director Shinsuke Sato shoots the sequence in a way that the camera shakes
as each bullet slams home -- this, while Yuki is spinning in the air and
deflecting bullets with her sword. Good stuff.
Despite its good points, "Princess Blade"
nevertheless feels incomplete. Takashi's story, in particular, seems grossly
thin. The whole subplot about Takashi's involvement with a shadowy and
untrustworthy terrorist organization feels short-changed, and I would have liked
to see Takashi do more than just talk about what he's done, and what the
organization plans to do. There's no action, no "showing" -- there's
just a lot of "telling." As most screenwriters are taught very early
on, when writing action you should "show, not tell."
The film's Act Two, which could have been problematic in a
film sold as an action movie, is actually very welcomed. Shaku and Ito plays off
each other well, and their relationship as two wounded souls hoping for a chance
at a better tomorrow, is easy to cheer for. The violent Act Three, when it
finally comes to break up the ray of light established by the peaceful Act Two,
effectively shatters our slim hope for our two main characters. Yumiko Shaku
deserves praise as the sword wielding Yuki, who kills because she's never been
taught to do anything else. And Hideaki Ito compliments her with his hesitant
and emotionally wounded Takashi.
Alas, I wanted to know more about the world that the
characters inhabit. Besides one CGI-created scene where Takashi drives through a
cityscape, the bulk of the film takes place in the countryside. There are many
sequences in a forested area, which could be just about anywhere in the world.
There were a lot of questions that I asked that weren't answered, and one of
them was this: What kind of world is this that makes Takashi and his fellow
terrorists want to change so much they're willing to blow people up to do it?
There is a brief radio segment featuring propaganda nonsense by "the
State", but that's not nearly enough to give us a firm grasp on the
"world" of "Princess Blade."
I wanted more, but there was not more coming. At just 90
minutes, it's easy to guess that a lot was chopped off for pacing. Which makes
me wonder if there's a longer version available -- a sort of Director's Cut. If
there were, it would certainly be worthwhile to seek out.