An epic tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, the movie is ultimately bogged down by simplistic dialogue and an unfortunate side of cheese.
Kelly Chen is the princess of a kingdom under fire by a rival warring state. Her dad, the Emperor, is a battle-hardened field general who is mortally wounded after insisting on leading his troops in one last attack on their enemies. D'oh. Chen comes into power on the throne after the dead Emp's fave general (Donnie Yen) withdraws his right to rule and backs the chick. You don't have to be a genius to see what comes next. The other generals do not like this and refuse to support her. War within and without is brewing and the good guys are outnumbered.
So Chen toughs it out and knuckles up, right?
After a very short commitment to train as a warrior and lead her troops confidently (the people love her, despite the lack of confidence shown by the warmongers) she gets her ass kicked by a marauding party from the enemy state and ends up in an expatriate doctor's (Leon Lai) treehouse of healing. Love blossoms, right on cue. The doctor turns out to be the last of a cadre of badass swordsmen who disbanded long ago after being betrayed or the like. Donnie Yen is dismayed by all this, naturally. The rebelling generals strike and all kinds of tragic shenanigans ensue.
If this all sounds very Zhang Yimou to you, then you're in the same boat as me. Apparently director Siu-tung Chin is a big fan of House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower. There's nothing wrong with that, of course. That's pretty good taste. However, the cheesy love music and simplistic script doesn't help matters one bit. It's a shame because the fights and battle scenes are quite the sight to behold. It's exciting stuff only made better by the presence of the superb Donnie Yen.
This came very close to being a great films if it weren't for the pat philosophy on war and peace - separating everything into black and white. The love triangle is interesting in parts but Kelly Chen comes off as either cooing or coarse, with no inbetween mode. The main thing that saves it from being another average-o-rama is Donnie Yen, the patron saint of physical destruction. Yen and his giant sword are a sight to behold in the finale and he continues to cement his place as an immortal tough guy. Too bad it was kinda sorta wasted in this kinda sorta disappointing movie. Don't let that stop you from watching it, though. It's still worth a look and very entertaining in parts.
Maybe you'll get a kick out of the hokey slow motion shots of Kelly Chen and Leon Lai falling in love set to all kinds of sappy music.