We all know the story about the princess in a kingdom under threat by baddies. Once upon a time they were saved by a dashing prince, but recent years saw the overdue recognition of their own strengths. Today’s princesses can stand up for themselves and others, often via magical means… but what if sorcery isn’t an option? What if the only power she has is a combination of determination, rage, and fighting skills? Well, then you’d have something like the action-filled and entertaining The Princess.
Our story opens in a familiar spot for fairy tale princesses — locked in a room at the top of a tower. The princess (Joey King) was meant to marry the invading Prince Julius (Dominic Cooper), but she left him at the altar and was locked away in her wedding dress for her troubles. Her family’s kingdom has fallen with Julius now in charge, and if he can’t earn legitimacy via her hand he’s more than happy to do so by marrying her much younger sister. The princess isn’t about to let that happen, but to stop him she has to make her way all the way down to the ground floor… something she’s ready to do no matter how many guys she has to punch, kick, stab, and slaughter along the way.
The Princess is a fun ride pairing its simple tale of female empowerment with some impressive and exciting action beats. The plot may be little more than a reverse The Raid as she has to fight her way all the way down a high-rise, but everyone involved is having such an infectiously good time that its simplicity becomes an asset. There’s an air of the cheap and cheesy on occasion as it unfolds almost entirely on soundstages and features some on-the-nose dialogue, but at just over ninety minutes its plusses far outweigh those slights.
The action sits front and center as the film’s central draw, and it does not disappoint. Director Le-Van Kiet previously delivered the goods with 2019’s Furie (made our Best Action list that year!), and he shows that was no fluke. Granted, that earlier film takes a far more serious and brutal tone, but don’t think that means The Princess plays it safe with its fights. Baddies are stabbed and sliced throughout, blood is splattered everywhere, and she even pounds a knife into a guy’s eye before slamming it into his brain.
The choreography (by Kefi Abrikh) never pretends or suggests that little Joey King is beating these bigger dudes by overpowering them — but that won’t stop dipshits and incels from whining about wokeness and the impossibility of a girl defeating men — and instead she uses defensive moves, her wits, and often their own strength against them. Swordplay and grappling moves are infused with speed and agility, and it’s shot with energy and clarity by Kiet and cinematographer Lorenzo Senatore. The movements and geography are always clear as she works her way down spiral staircases, through large kitchens, and across courtyards, and while her stunt double gets in more than a few licks it’s clear that King has done the work.
Already a streaming star thanks to Netflix and The Kissing Booth franchise, King comes to Hulu with a different kind of project. She’s a producer on The Princess as well as its star, and there are numerous dialogue-free stretches that see her swinging swords, tumbling over tables and bodies, and being slammed against walls. Her movements are fluid but scrappy, and she’s showing off some real chops with more of the action than you might expect from a former teen star. She also delivers just the right amount of sass in her expressions and reactions making sure that each of these fools who underestimates her will most definitely regret it.
King takes the lead in The Princess, but she’s well supported by two other women — Veronica Ngo and Olga Kurylenko. Ngo plays the princess’ mentor and fight trainer, but she gets in plenty of hits of her own here threatening to outshine King at every turn. Kurylenko, meanwhile, is Julius’ villainous sidekick, and she’s having a grand time hamming it up with high hair and a deadly whip. Both women are talented actors and action performers capable of headlining their own films — seriously, check out Furie, Clash (2009), The Courier (2019), and Sentinelle (2021) — and both bring character and skill to lift up King’s rodeo.
The script (by Ben Lustig and Jake Thornton) may not break new ground with its female-first narrative and anachronistic approach to medieval gender politics, but it doesn’t need to. It hits the ground running and uses sporadic flashbacks to fill in character details and reveal the training the princess has been undergoing since childhood. The dialogue is more than a bit obvious as it drives home its well-trodden points on a woman’s supposed place, whether in medieval times or today, but its lightweight, surface-level feel doesn’t hurt the message. Consider it a gateway film for young action fans — it’s bloody and features some foul language, but it’s a solidly inspiring entry point for young ones enchanted by the fight choreography and camerawork but uninterested in dense plotting.
The Princess is undeniably cheesy, feels unavoidably small in scope, and isn’t helped by some sketchy cg effects, but there’s a casual fun to be found in its direct approach. Any shortcomings are easily forgiven as the film delivers where it matters most with some entertainingly crafted action sequences that keep things moving towards a satisfying finale. This princess is here to kick ass and chew bubble gum, and like the late, great Roddy Piper, she’s all out of bubble gum.
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