Film: The Woman Knight Of Mirror Lake
UK Release date: Tbc
Director: Herman Yau
Starring: Kevin Cheng, Pat Ha, Yi Huang, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Suet Lam
Running time: 115 mins
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewer: Adam Wing
Underrated Hong Kong director Herman Yau (The Legend is Born: Ip Man) takes to period kung fu for his biopic about late-Qing revolutionary Qiu Jin, who in case you didn’t know, was pivotal in bringing about the downfall of the imperial regime in China. Crystal Huang brings The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake to life, supported on her journey by a star-studded cast including Anthony Wong, Kevin Cheng and Lam Suet. The truth is in there somewhere, that goes without saying, but a sweeping action epic wouldn’t be much fun without spectacular battle sequences orchestrated by veteran action director Leung Siu Hung (Ip Man).
Two timelines run side by side in Herman Yau’s inspired (and inspiring) offering, with the first one depicting Qui Jin’s arrest, trial and eventual demise. The other timeline - which is afforded most of the running time - takes us back to her childhood and explains how she came to be in such a tragic predicament. Along the way we discover that she was well educated, free spirited and something of an expert in martial arts - it’s here that the filmmakers make a few allowances for entertainment value. She was also a successful poet and liked to dress in men’s clothing, but that’s not nearly as exciting as a tendency for kicking creative ass.
We discover how she got married and moved to Beijing with her husband (Kevin Cheng), where she witnessed her country raided and ravaged by foreign powers. With little hope of support from her weak-minded husband, Qiu Jin left her family behind to study in Japan. There she met revolutionary leader Xu Xilin (Dennis To), and along with several like-minded classmates, secretly joined his cause. After returning to China, Qiu Jin participated in the uprisings staged by Xu Xilin. Together they fought for equality and kicked a little ass along the way, all in the name of quality entertainment.
The first hour of the movie is dedicated to fleshing out Qui Jin’s back-story, with little time for action and excitement. It would be misleading to label The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake a martial arts movie, and if you go into it expecting wall-to-wall action you’re in for a rough ride. The film opens with a fantastic fight sequence and then settles down into full on drama mode. For the next forty-five minutes we are witness to a mesmerising lead performance, solid supporting turns from the likes of Anthony Wong, and stirring emotion. The pace drags from time to time but for the most part this is fascinating stuff. Herman Yau handles the drama well, shifting from past to present without confusing the audience, and its here that his storytelling skills are taken full advantage of.
The final act is no less dramatic, but it brings with it a healthy dose of martial arts action to boot. The fight scenes throughout are truly astonishing, mixing up traditional swordplay and wondrous wire-fu to exhilarating effect. The over the top nature of wire-fu is toned down in favour of realism and gunfire, and it sits more comfortably with the unfolding drama as a result, but every now and then Leung Siu Hung really goes to town and you wont find any complaints from me. The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake ends in rousing - albeit downbeat - fashion, casting a light on the legendary exploits of an extraordinary woman.
Pray that this gets a UK release soon. The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake is one of the most accomplished action dramas to surface in years.