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  Directed by
    None Listed
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer ( )
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
  Subtitles
    English
  Extras
  • 6 Theatrical trailer
  • Audio commentary

Princess Blade

Madman Cinema/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 93 mins . MA15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Knowing a film is Asian and owning a title like this, how could humble I resist it? I could not. I’d seen trailers and liked what I saw and wanted more. And I got more.

The trailer does buoy this film into a 90-odd minutes of martial arts sword-fighting fun but in reality the film starts and ends with this and has a vast expanse in the middle devoid of anything like action. It goes like this...

Yuki is a downtrodden assassin of the Takemikazuchi Clan, a band of assassins selling their skills to the highest bidder. She’s also the daughter of former leader Azura; a princess and leader she has just learned was murdered making her the rightful heir to the Takemikazuchi leadership – Princess Blade. Unfortunately the guy that killed her very much likes leading the Clan and has no thought of reverting leadership to her and she is exiled under pursuit.

"I never dreamed it would turn out like this…"

After fighting to within inches of her life, she is unwittingly rescued by Takeshi who nurses her back to health. He has a dark past in much the same line of work and they soon develop a faltering relationship. Unfortunately though, the Takemikazuchi are closing in and the time to take back her leadership is now.

Princess Blade (or Shuri Yukihime) is a martial arts film set in a rural landscape of a technologically and industrially choked Japan of the near future. There is seemingly no law and nothing but the Clans. In utilising the rural versus industrial settings the film draws an interesting comparison between the codes of ancient times and the methodology of today. The weapons of the assassins are swords, though guns are readily available. Yuki’s swordplay is in direct contrast to Takeshi’s guns and his past, in which he was a subversive political assassin. In this manner the classic ‘opposites attracting’ romantic storyline is easily placed, although so slow in getting started that it isn’t so important by the conclusion.

Still, for action junkies there is plenty of brilliant and bloody sword fighting with even a classic animé fountain of gushing claret or two thrown in for zing. The only real failing of the film lies in the underdeveloped relationship between Yuki and Takeshi and certainly not in the wire- and sword-fu. This will certainly please most folks after some great action sequences, but the relationship mid-film does slow things considerably.

  Video
Contract

This is based on a Manga comic by Kazuo Koike and Kazuo Kamimura and many of the film’s beautifully shot images reflect the comic book world – though not necessarily that of a Japanese flavour. This creates a visual appeal for the westerners that is hard to ignore as the cinematic aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is dutifully employed to create both expansive vistas and claustrophobic forest battles. CG has been used minimally but obviously and fails to really impress, regardless of the effort to not overuse it.

There are occasional artefacts throughout, though certainly nothing disruptive from this 2001 print. The colour is all washed in an overcast styling that deepens the mood of the film considerably and works well for the dramatic elements, though there is still a little mild grain in the poorer lit scenes. Shadow detail is minimal, but does occasionally give it up whereas blacks are natural and even. The layer change comes in at 18:10, unusually, slipping it in early to get it out of the way. This is only detectable by a slight pause between scenes.

  Audio
Contract

A delectable choice between Dolby Digital 5.1 and stereo 2.0 is given us here and naturally I went with the 5.1 (who wouldn’t if they can?). The surrounds then only really give us music but they deliver it crystal clear. Some of the action scenes involving many fighters creep around the place too, but these are it really. The subwoofer, too, does the same; it gets hyper during the battle bits and throbbing action track music, but then reverts to humble silence for the duration. That’s cool. It does its job well. The majority of the film is a talkie (in Japanese).

Music is very nice here and has been scored by Kenji Kawai. It rolls about in the most subtle manner mostly, hovering ghost-like on the edge of perception at times while at others it accessorises the mood or action with choral and Gothic melodic pieces. Sound effects do the same; sometimes quite natural and at others deliberately overplayed. It works well enough here, but the last piece of music is a little brutally sentimental, if I may create a paradox. Quite animé indeed.

  Extras
Contract

Just a few here, with the first being a fight scene audio commentary by the action director/choreographer Donnie Yen. He speaks clearly enough in English but unfortunately doesn’t really have much to say. Japanese subtitles are burnt in as a montage of the film’s most actionest bits plays for 25:31. It’s a fairly ordinary and simplistic description and worth it not so much the commentary but for the montage alone.

The trailer follows and this runs for 1:41 in Japanese without subtitles or 16:9 enhancement of the 1.85:1 ratio. It contains a lot of the action that originally fooled me into thinking this was 90 minutes of dudes kicking each other’s arses with swords and kung-fu.

Eastern Eye trailers are last here and contain the usual montage of smaller trailers plus full length ones for Volcano High, Infernal Affairs, Bichunmoo and The Grudge.

So not so much.

  Overall  
Contract

Princess Blade is a great actioner, don’t get me wrong. I just felt the romance, which appears to be the main thrust of the story, hasn’t been dealt with as well as it needed to succeed and this drags out the moments between sword fights and shootouts.

It’s still worth checking out for the awesome action scenes and a less rigid approach to filmmaking than our usual Hollywood offerings. The film attempts to parallel the original comic book artwork and settings throughout and this helps create a feeling of a closed universe, while still tipping the hat to the more western comic book deliveries.

Good stuff and well worth the look.


  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=3963
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      And I quote...
    "Asian cinema with flair as the sword fight enters the 21st century… though not paying the same attention to the development of characters."
    - Jules Faber
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Teac DVD-990
    • TV:
          AKAI CT-T29S32S 68cm
    • Speakers:
          Teac PLS-60 Home Theatre System
    • Centre Speaker:
          Teac PLS-60 Home Theatre System
    • Surrounds:
          Teac PLS-60 Home Theatre System
    • Subwoofer:
          Akai
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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