Sunday, August 14, 2016

HSFF ’16: Princess Yun

A princess is expected to relinquish her heart to serve the throne. She must marry for expediency’s sake and potentially lead her subjects into the ravages of war. This particular princess has the additional task of safeguarding the Centrum, a cosmic artifact that can foretell the future. She will always do her duty, but that does not leave any room for sentimentality in Tiger Tse’s visually stunning sf-fantasy wuxia short film Princess Yun (trailer here), which screens during 2016 HollyShorts Film Festival.

It is the House of Li’s responsibility to protect the Centrum, while the House of Yi is charged with safekeeping the Actus, a relic that holds power over the past. For years, the two houses have maintained a peaceful equilibrium that Princess Yun expects to continue when she marries Yi’s Prince Jade. It is not just an arranged marriage. Ever since they were children, they had real affection for each other.

Unfortunately, that trust is dashed when a well-organized band of ruffians attacks the betrothed royals’ party, injuring the Prince and stealing the Centrum. With the natural balance shifted, the ambitious General Song exploits the resulting fear and uncertainty to stoke her plans for war.

You are unlikely to see a short film more visually and technically accomplished than Princess Yun in a month of Sundays. As an added bonus, it is also a film of considerable originality that spans and stretches genres. You rarely find a wuxia period piece that also incorporates time travel themes, while maintaining it ancient roots. Frankly, it is one of the few films of any length that could be described as both visionary and archetypal.

Tse has an eye for grand spectacle, but he also renders the classically tragic personal drama with great sensitivity. He is clearly ready for the big leagues and so is art director Ma Jun, whose grand sets and lush trappings overachieve and then some. Cao Jing’s costumes are similarly rich and cinematic. Chen Xiner wears them well, while subtly but powerfully conveying the complicated, conflicted feelings of the title character.

Princess Yun is another terrific example of how wuxia and related Chinese historicals give disproportionately strong roles to women, compared to action films in other countries. Princess Yun, her mother Queen Jingxi, and General Song are all forceful, commanding figures, whereas Prince Jade is the passive one. Highly recommended fans of all pertinent genres, Princess Yun screens this Tuesday night (8/16), as part of the “Action” block at this year’s HollyShorts.