HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


What I first thought was going to be a dry-as-dust biopic quickly turns into a superb action-drama that gives equal time to both the heartrendingly emotional and pulse-poundingly exciting aspects of the life of Qiu Jin, THE WOMAN KNIGHT OF MIRROR LAKE (2011).

Huang Yi, who looks really sharp in a mannish jacket and tie, gives a stirring performance as a woman in early 20th-century China whose life becomes dedicated to rebelling against two things: the systematic oppression of women, and the Qing Dynasty's grievous mismanagement of the government. 

The young Qiu Jin is seen cutely refusing to have her feet bound and then being educated along with her brother in everything from literature to martial arts.  When reminded of her future marriage and subjugation to her prospective husband, her reaction lets us know that things aren't going to work out that way. 

Leaving the poor tradition-bound sap and her two children to attend school in Japan, Qiu Jin's fierce campaign for gender equality is soon eclipsed by a different revolutionary fervor when she meets Xu Xilin (Dennis To, Huang Yi's co-star in THE LEGEND IS BORN: IP MAN, also directed by Herman Yau) and joins his band of political warriors who are planning the violent overthrow of the government. 

The film's furious fight action gets underway right off the bat with the group's assassination attempt on an elderly governor, prompting fierce and meticulously choreographed combat between police and rebels within two schools that serve as their training ground. 

After Xu Xilin is defeated the governor's lieutenant Liu Xiao Ming goes after Qiu Jin and her students, the result being a no-holds-barred fight sequence (the first of many) involving fists, swords, guns, wires, and things that explode.  More bloody, action-packed skirmishes will occur throughout the rest of the film as well.

Qiu Jin's capture and subsequent mockery of a trial, during which she is brutally tortured, evokes memories of THE PASSION OF JOAN D'ARC and forms the framework for well-integrated flashbacks of her life up to that point.  (Anthony Wong of EXILEDand THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR appears as a sympathetic but powerless magistrate.) 

There's a deft counterbalance between the violent and more tender moments, with Huang Yi aptly conveying Qiu Jin's personal anguish over the life she could have had as well as the quiet fervor of her revolutionary spirit.  Qiu Jin is so unassumingly righteous in her beliefs that it's no more shocking to see her engaged in a blazing gunfight with police in the streets than weeping over her decision to disappear from her family's lives. 

As the film heads inexorably toward Qiu Jin's conviction and execution, the flashbacks bring us back to where we began, only this time the armed uprising is seen in all the thrilling detail that director Herman Yau can muster as armed police lay siege to Xu Xilin's training school. 

The prolonged hand-to-hand fight between Xu Xilin and Liu Xiao Ming (an intense Xiong Xinxin) as the battle rages around them is a particular highlight, one of the most furious I've seen in a long time and filled with a wide variety of martial arts styles, weaponry, and even some semi-hokey wirework.  Not even all this action, however, can overpower the emotional impact that the story manages to convey as it draws to a close and we learn Qiu Jin's fate.

The 2-disc Blu-Ray/DVD combo from Funimation is in 16x9 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround in Mandarin and English.  Subtitles are in English.  The sole extra is a "making of" featurette. 

While I have no idea of how historically accurate THE WOMAN KNIGHT OF MIRROR LAKE is, I sorta doubt if the real-life Qiu Jin could fly around like Darth Maul and fight off hordes of armed attackers singlehanded.  It does make for a more interesting biopic, though.  And aside from all the other good things about the film, Huang Yi's exciting performance alone makes this one worth watching again. 

Buy the Blu-Ray/DVD combo at

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