Friday, January 21, 2022

The King’s Daughter, Co-Starring Fan Bingbing

It is hard to get a good clean look at Fan Bingbing playing a heavily CGI’ed mermaid in this film, but it is easier to see her here than in China, where she is still being “rehabilitated” after the powers-that-be yanked her from the public eye and “detained” her for several months in 2018. (Subsequently, she has been considered to be one of the first celebrities to receive the “Peng Shuai treatment”). Nobody will call this a “comeback” vehicle, but it is certainly a curiosity piece. (You can also see the logo for the financially-precarious Evergrande’s liquidated film unit in the opening credits, for extra added notoriety.) Our protag—don’t call her the princess—forms a friendship with Fan’s weird mermaid in Sean McNamara’s The King’s Daughter, based on Vonda McIntyre’s novel, which opens today in theaters.

Louis XIV has just returned victorious from war, but a would-be assassin’s too-close-for-comfort bullet makes him suddenly mindful of his mortality. He is played by Pierce Brosnan, so apparently the Sun King was Irish. Who knew? The court doctor, who also dabbles in alchemy tells the king he can make him immortal, if his men can capture one of the mermaids living in the lost city of Atlantis. He needs to transplant its uncanny life force into the king—but it will only work with a full-grown female. Of course, she will die in the process, but he can live (forever) with that.

Meanwhile, Louis summons the secret love child he tucked away in a convent to serve as the court composer. Marie-Josephe D’Alembar is a rebellious klutz who could make even Katherine Hepburn say: “you could carry yourself with a bit more grace, kiddo.” She knows nothing of her true origins or her father’s intention to marry her off to a wealthy young nobleman. Instead, D’Alembar falls in love with Yves De La Croix, the slightly tarnished sea captain who captures the mermaid.

It is hard to believe this production was allowed to film on-location at Versailles, but they were, way back in 2014. Obviously, this has been on the shelf for years, for good reason. The effects are cheesy and so are the performances. Brosnan looks embarrassed and Kaya Scodelario’s Miss Maisel-ish portrayal of D’Alembar is ridiculously anachronistic. Honestly, Fan really doesn’t do anything except let the FX team superimpose her head on the big fish. Ironically, only William Hurt brings any sense of dignity to the film as the good Father La Chaise, an original character not in McIntyre’s novel.

This is all very silly, but it is mostly watchable. It is not the campy train-wreck we might hope for, but it is probably the closest we will get to see of
Empires of the Deep, the notoriously unfinished and infamously silly Chinese mermaid fantasy that was intended to rival Star Wars. McIntyre’s book won the Nebula over Game of Thrones, but the adapted screenplay (credited to several well-known screenwriters, including Ronald Bass and James Schamus) is a dumbed-down mish-mash.

There is no need for you to send your good money after Evergrande’s bad, but there is definitely a segment of viewers out there who will be entertained by the mess. Not recommended for conventional viewing,
The King’s Daughter opens today (1/21) in New York, at the Regal E-Walk.