“Kissing Booth” queen Joey King turns avenging angel in her latest, a movie about the Medieval mayhem unleashed when “The Princess” is hellbent on NOT becoming “The Princess Bride.”
Vietnamese action filmmaker Le-Van Kiet and his “Furie” fight choreographer Kefi Abrikh turn the former child star into a short, fiery harpy who slashes, stabs and pummels her way through the family castle to free her parents and little sister from the prince and his mercenaries who have taken them prisoner.
Even if you’ve figured out that the diminutive King will take on anything, from TV’s “Fargo” to “The Act,” from big screen teen sex comedies like “Summer ’03” to the historical tragedy “Radium Girls” and even the horror of “Slender Man,” it’s a shock to see her put through her swordfight paces here.
It’s also a hoot.
Kiet matches her up against mountainous, armor-plated fighting men in duals, three, four or five on one fights, and the character only known as The Princess tumbles, spins, dodges and slices them down to size, just the way you’d expect someone with a height disadvantage to manage it. She starts with the foot, the thigh and the Achilles heel. She cuts them down to her level and they drop like flies.
The Princess wakes up, in her wedding gown, visions of being drugged and shackled her most recent memories. There’s this ignoble noble (Dominic Cooper, perfectly vile) who strong-armed her “pacifist, placator” father (Ed Stoppard, son of playwright Tom) and reluctant mother (Alex Reid) into a kingdom-saving arranged marriage.
When The Princess bristles at this, Julius goes all Brutus on her and her family, unleashing a company of armed thugs on their palace, shackling her and consigning her parents and little sister (Katelyn Rose Downey) to the dungeon. His sidekick/side-piece (Olga Kurylenko), all leather and studded gloves and lethal bullwhip, is there to back him up every evil step of the way.
She wakes up fearing “This is all my fault,” for turning down a perfectly power-mad offer from a charmer whose love language is “I always get what I want.”
There’s nothing for it but to dislocate her wrists to lose the shackles, head-butt her captors and grab swords, ropes, crossbows and whatever else is handy and kill her way downstairs from the tower to that dungeon.
That’s all there is to the plot — fight, bind this or that wound, catch her breath, hide for a moment, and fight again, with flashbacks establishing that her parents, who really wanted and needed a son as successor, let her Vietnamese nanny-companion (the terrific Veronia Ngo of “Furie”) train her in the martial arts she will unleash to turn the Middle Ages into the Dark Ages in a single, savage day.
There’s no sense in working out the weight differential and simple physics of somebody Joey K’s size taking down blokes two or three times her throw-weight. Kiet makes sure there’s no time for that sort of reasoning.
And King and her stunt team do a damned fine job of tumbling, stumbling, strangling and impaling this Fury’s way from one fight to the next. It’s not nearly as frenetic and furious as “Furie,” but it’ll do.
The combat is personal, visceral and vicious — none of this “just knock them out and move on.” On no. One last through slash, brutal bash of the skull or stab in the sternum is in order, to make sure she doesn’t have to repeat herself. The body count is staggering, and can’t help but become a comical running gag here.
The screenplay’s simple point A to point B structure means that the writers, director, fight choreographer and star spent their time working out “gags,” ways to get The Princess out of this fix — yank off those pearls to trip up that mob coming her way — and into the next one.
The dialogue, with King affecting a period posh Brit accent, is strictly of the “Someone needs to teach you your PLACE,” “I’ve heard THAT before” variety.
It’s all eye-rolling, laugh-out-loud action nonsense, and often damned entertaining, another highlight of King’s ever-lengthening highlight reel of a career.
And Kiet turns his American movie making debut into a lean, silly and action-packed showcase. Not to oversell this, but he makes a sort of John Woo statement, with “The Princess” as his version of “Hard Target,” proof that he can take any Hollywood star, any simplistic script, unleash all hell around her and have her come out looking like a badass.
The world’s leading ladies should be licking their lips over the possibilities “The Princess” unleashes.
Rating: R for strong/bloody violence and some profanity
Cast: Joey King, Dominic Cooper, Olga Kurylenko, Veronica Ngo, Alex Reid, Ed Stoppard.
Credits: Directed by Le-Van Kiet scripted by Ben Lustig and Jake Thornton. A 20th Century release on Hulu.
Running time: 1:36