Hulu’s ‘The Princess’ is a Requiem for the Girlboss
Photo: Courtesy of 20th Century Studio/HULU
Princess is an action flick whose premise reaches such deranged heights of cynical complacency that screenwriters Ben Lustig and Jake Thornton had to trade high fives after coming up with it. Its main character, played by Joey King, is the king’s daughter (Ed Stoppard) in a fairy tale kingdom that seems to consist mostly of a tower overlooking the sea. When she refuses the arranged marriage between her and a lord named Julius (Dominic Cooper), Julius decides to change his mind by force, seizing the castle and capturing the royal family. But the princess, who has never been given a name besides this, has been trained in martial arts, and rather than being dragged down the aisle in chains, she is soon punching, kicking foot and fights his way from floor to floor in an attempt to save his family and, along the way, prove to his father that he doesn’t need a male heir to pass on leadership. It is as if Lowering received a concussion head injury and were members of the Wing.
What are princesses, anyway? The sufficiency with which Princess features the spectacle of a 110-pound woman in a poofy dress going through passable fight choreography is enough to make you wonder if anyone involved in the film paid attention to the last few decades of pop culture (or watched a show by Joss Whedon). The princesses are kicking ass now – they’re leading the way, they’re saving the day, and they’re also still beautiful, feminine and lithe, the latter point being hammered home in this new film by one big, elaborate joke. The princess has been a revisionist figure for so many years now that we’ve lost the idea that one of the few defining qualities of the role, outside of class, is lack of agency, especially when it comes to marriage. . Our attachment to this increasingly vague concept, fueled in large part by Disney branding and the undying allure of a ruffled dress, has led us down an empowerment dead end. Princesswhose main character attempts to prove that women are just as deserving as men when it comes to inheriting power solely due to the circumstances of their birth.
King, with his Kewpie doll face and increasingly jagged medieval wedding dress, is a gaming action hero if not a notable one. Princess would clearly like to be seen in recent murderous David Leitch lore – adjacent films like the John Wicks, Atomic Blondeand Nobody, but is more sloppy in its construction, striving to take longer while firing its shots in combat. He feels precipitatewhich was probably the case – Vietnamese American director Le-Van Kiet has already had two other films in theaters this year, the horror flick The Ancestor and Alicia Silverstone’s shark attack thriller The shark. He is best known for the 2019 gangster drama Fury, and here hires the star of this film, Veronica Ngo, to play Linh, the pupil of King Khai’s adviser (Kristofer Kamiyasu). The king, it is explained, has always opened his doors to “outsiders”, something Julius mocks for weakness, though xenophobia is as blind a marker of wickedness as aristocratic acceptance is a display of largesse. Linh and Khai are there to participate in the age-old cinematic tradition of asserting a white person’s dominance over Asian fighting techniques. When the princess defeats Khai in a skirmish, he intones that she “has a warrior’s heart” and ceremoniously presents her with the sword she uses to skewer various henchmen.
So why can’t I stop thinking about that stupid elevator gag from a movie? Her empty girl power aesthetic has the quality of an intrusive thought. Like something from a time capsule opened too soon, Princess is an artifact of girlboss feminism that retains no resonance, but is also not remote enough to have curiosity value. As its protagonist strips down her bulky outfit to a combat corset and flowing skater skirt and yelps that she’s “not property to be traded,” the rote commodification of the film’s oppression as a series of slogans arrives during a period of deliciously painful misogynistic national crisis. There are so many reasons to be angry right now, and anger can be cathartic to see and, when shared, can feel like an outstretched hand. Or, in the case of Princess, it can be turned into an affirmation of the current order, which is apparently perfectly fine aside from the need for a royal lady atop the throne of the theme park monarchy that the movie barely managed to find. He turns rage into a joke, acceptable to him because he assumes that equality is guaranteed and can be taken for granted.