Korean writer-director Kwak Jae-young seems to have a knack or a preference to craft romantic comedies for the mass market, and so far have been delivering hits like My Sassy Girl, to my recent personal favourite of his with Cyborg, She. Strong female characters up against wimpy men also becomes staple in his stories, together with some touching, bittersweet moments that work their way into the plot.
However, I'm more inclined to say that My Mighty Princess rates slightly above the disastrous Japanese movie Shaolin Girl, both of which feature female characters gifted in the field of martial arts, exploiting their skills in daily life, as well as in sports, coupled with special effects and elaborate wire work (here courtesy of stunt people from Hong Kong). But while Shaolin Girl suffered from a self-destructive storyline, My Mighty Princess fared better, but still had too much squeezed into it and became quite incoherent, flip-flopping from one subplot to the next
It had identifiable elements from movies like Kung Fu Hustle (the meeting of the martial arts masters where they demonstrate their distinct skills), Shaolin Soccer (for the dexterity of Kung Fu used in sportS), and even borrowed the legendary weapon from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon with its Green Destiny Sword, complete with weapon nuances. Granted though its duality, in being a martial arts movie with swordsmen and swordswomen roaming Korea, served as a highlight, but somehow the gel wasn't done correctly, and it seemed like two movies spliced side by side.
Kung Fu aside, the romantic plots here also turn out to be quite messy. We have teenager and heroine Sohwi (Shin Min-A) in love with hunky Junmo (GUn), a hockey player in school, and mean biker. However, this infatuation is only one sided, because Junmo happens to have the hots for, check this out, older women in uniform. Though there was a very short explanation for this, it's one of those blink and you miss moments inserted through flashback, that might leave you quite perplexed should you not be able to connect the dots properly.
Then you have Ilyong (On Ju-wan) who is a childhood friend from the same brotherhood/fraternity of martial artists as Sohwi. Being the two youngest and most promising of their cohort, their curiosity one night will spark perhaps one of the rare moments where you actually start to feel for these two characters, outside of their slapstick like, and rather blah moments, where they get to exercise their skills. Cliché after cliché get pounded on the screen, to a point where you can be a step ahead in guessing what would happen next.
The opportunity for redemption came at the last act, which played on the notion of having to subdue someone you love, and forced by conscious circumstances to do so. Being also of a martial arts genre, you'll know what theme will be tapped on as well in order to end the movie. But execution wise was quite clumsy, with repetitive scenes of the same thing - dialogue, fighting moves, and effects, that it quickly became a bore, and threw all opportunity for a powerful emotional core away in a flash, which was quite a pity.
It seemed that Kwak lacked the courage to have ended this movie in a dark manner, and lapsed into unnecessary fluff that made it all look very cartoony. Then again, this movie was probably not meant to be taken seriously to begin with, and I was expecting too much. But knowing what Kwak Jae-young is capable of, perhaps my expectation was justified, though I should stick to his Japanese effort, and as I mentioned one of my personal favourites, for the time being.
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