Le-Van Kiet’s fantasy “The Princess” opens in a traditional manner, with the trill of Celtic-inspired flutes, a pink sunrise and a slow climb to the top of a spindly tower, where an unnamed princess-bride-to-be (Joey King) lies on a bed strewn with rose petals. But here, the royal beauty feigns sleep. Five minutes into this slender yet vigorous blood-spattered fable, two enemy guards enter to drag our heroine to the chapel — and she brutally kills them. Clearly, the classic genre that galvanizes Kiet and the screenwriters Ben Lustig and Jake Thornton doesn’t hark back to ye olde European fairy tales but rather to the feminist revenge thrillers of the 1970s: works of exploitation and wuxia cinema where warrior women stuck it to the man. With knives.
The plot proceeds like an arcade game. Her highness must fight her way downstairs to defeat her naysayer, including a tyrannical fiancé (Dominic Cooper), his cruel consort (Olga Kurylenko) and the princess’s own father (Ed Stoppard), a hapless weakling who believes he can combat fascism with calm and sensible reason. Using scant dialogue, the film makes a counterpoint: It takes physical violence to control the throne. That’s one opinion on which the princess and her villainous betrothed can agree.
Long takes highlight both King’s gumption (as when she somersaults back and forth over a card table to dispatch a trio of goons) and the admirably creative fight choreography by Stanimir Stamatov and Samuel Kefi Abrikh, which emphasizes quick-thinking defensive moves that make use of found objects — hairpins, pearls, heads of lettuce — to parry swords, axes, chains, whips and helmets with sharp horns. The high-aggro guitar score is a misstep, but a panting, battered King is credible and compelling as she kicks, stabs and screams for the right to choose her own destiny.
Rated R for rapacious bloodshed. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes. Watch on Hulu.