If you would have told me fifteen years ago that Herman Yau would be among the most respected names in Hong Kong historical martial arts cinema, I probably would have laughed my ass off. However, here we are in 2012 and Yau has two pretty damned solid historical action dramas under his belt, Ip Man - The Legend is Born
and now The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake
. Don't get me wrong, when it comes to scale Yau has a ways to go to compete with the big boys like Wilson Yip, but the production value that he's able to put on screen is pretty damned impressive.
The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake
takes on the story of one of the first and most prominent female revolutionaries in China, Qiu Jin, as she fights the good fight both against the Qing Dynasty and for gender equality. The story is split pretty evenly between her battles against the patriarchy of traditional Chinese society and her battles against the imperialist government, and both stories are quite competently told. The more engaging of the two stories, for me at least, is the story about the equal rights battle, since we've seen so many revolutionary films in the last decade from China. Qiu Jin (Huang Yi) challenges not only the traditional place of women in the home, but also gender roles on a larger scale, which is something a bit new for a film of this nature.
I mentioned above that Woman Knight
may have a hard time competing on the scale of something like the Ip Man
films, but it has something even a bit better in my opinion, it has flash. The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake
felt, to me, like a throwback to the historical wu xia films of the late '80s and early '90s. I got the vibe of a Once Upon a Time in China
from this film, with the historical material providing a basis upon which a fantastically entertaining kung fu epic could be laid. This was something that Yau's previous film, Ip Man - The Legend is Born
, accomplished capably, and I think that his history in exploitation film works to his advantage here. If there's anything that's a crime in the sleazy Cat III films of Hong Kong's recent past, it's dullness, and this is a cardinal sin that Yau doesn't seem to know how to commit. The film moves fast, and even at a lengthy 115 minutes, it felt very swiftly paced, and that is crucial.
In addition to Huang Yi, the film has a fantastic supporting cast that boasts some of Hong Kong finest character actors and Yau veterans. The two most inviting faces for me were the ever present Suet Lam and the greatness that is Anthony Wong. Wong, in particular, turns in a perfectly low key performance as a local lawman sympathetic to Qiu Jin's cause but hamstrung by the government he represents. Suet Lam plays on the other side of the fence, attempting to arrest and convict Qiu Jin of anti-government activities. Both are solid as usual, and are good to see whenever they grace us with their presence.
The real star of the film, though, is the action, and Yau doesn't skimp on that. Huang Yi holds her own pretty damned well, and her main adversary, played by Xiong Xin Xin, is a force to be reckoned with. The pair weave their way through opponents both with bare hands and armed, and do so with fluid grace and powerful skill. Sure, there are others getting in on the fighting action, but once these two appear on screen, they are the draw, and they have some fantastic fights. I'm not sure exactly how much of the film is fighting, but it seems like a lot, and in this case, that's a good thing.The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake
is a very good film. I'm not sure that Herman Yau has made a great film in this vein yet, but if his progression from The Legend Is Born
to Woman Knight
is any indication, it isn't far off. Personally, I kind of miss the old sleazy Yau, but if the trade off is that we get fun films like Woman Knight
, I'll take it.
FUNimation has put together another very good product for Herman Yau's newest film. Woman Knight
looks and sounds great, as one would expect. The image is bright and contrasty, since most of the film is shot in broad daylight, there isn't my grain to be seen, but there is ample detail and it looks fantastic in motion. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Mandarin audio track is also pretty impressive. There are enough battle sequences to show off your speaker system to your friends, and plenty of oomph in the low end.
The main extra on the disc is a making of featurette. This short piece begins with some behind the scenes footage and graduates to some pretty fluffy interviews about how great it was to work on the film. Pretty standard stuff, nothing too in depth. There is also a trailer, so there's that.
In this case, the real draw is a fun action film with a lot to say. The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake
shows Herman Yau as a director who continues to grow even after 20+ years in the business, and that's something to be admired. I dig it.