Hot on the heels of Three Kingdoms
and The Battle of Red Cliff comes yet another Chinese period epic
full of gargantuan battle sequences and more intricately-designed armour
that you can shake a sword at.
After her father dies in battle, Yen Feier
(Cantopop sensation Kelly Chen) must join forces with a hunky warrior
(Donnie Yen) to unite her warring kingdom and protect it from both
internal divisions and the treachery of outsiders.
And thatís it, in a nutshell. Itís nothing
that hasnít been done before, on higher budgets, but this fantasy is
saved by some artful choreography courtesy of director Ching Sui-Tung (A
Chinese Ghost Story) and lush cinematography from masterful lensman
Zhao Xiao-Ding (House of Flying Daggers).
An Empress and the Warriors never
really seems certain whether it wants to be a straight action film, a
romantic character study or an all-out war epic, but the overall
aesthetic engendered is so breathtakingly sublime that it doesnít
actually matter. The set and costume designs are absolutely flawless,
and though the CGI fails on one or two occasions the special effects
also hold up very well.
Because the visuals are so obviously the
filmís strength, however, the Blu-ray transfer winds up being decidedly
on the disappointing side. Picture quality is variable throughout, with
some scenes crystal clear and others downright fuzzy. I donít if this
is a problem with the transfer process itself but itís distinctly
noticeable and distracts from what should be an unbridled visual treat.
And while the DTS-HD-5.1 and Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio tracks sound fine in
and of themselves, the voices have clearly been dubbed and mostly fail
to synch up to the movement of the actorís lips.
Despite its well-worn themes this is an
ambitious and stunningly shot feature from Ching. Which is why itís
such a shame that the technical deficiencies are so glaring- they
detract entirely from what should have been an enjoyably epic viewing
experience. The lack of any special features further ensures this
bare-bones release is one for die-hard genre fans only.