Female poet Qiu Jin (Huang Yi) has been captured and is being questioned by Qing officials (Anthony Wong, Lam Suet, and Xin Xin Xiong). Looking to discover her compatriots, they result to torture and interrogation. As Qiu Jin waits for her destiny to be metered out, her life story, from young tomboy, to student demonstrator, and finally to rallying revolutionary, is explored.
This biopic, directed by Herman Yau, attempts to lionize the figure of Qiu Jin, someone with whom I was unfamiliar. While I am sure she’s a fairly well known revolutionary figure, the film’s attempts to humanize her fall generally flat and the state of worship creates a film version which never seems truly relatable. She certainly seems to go through numerous trials and tribulations; her state as a liberated woman and reactionary activities invites conflicts like marriage woes, culture clashes, and class struggle. An attempt to make her sympathetic by showing her leaving her children to serve her cause failed to connect because I could not find enough justification in her abandonment of her family. It’s the most glaring of a number of presentation issues within the film, but perhaps that’s a culturally specific issue.
Where the film excels is in the terrific action scenes, courtesy of Tony Leung and Chi Ming Liu. The always great Xin Xin Xiong plays a great and formidable villain and Huang Yi and Dennis To have great action moments throughout the film. In particular, a massive battle scene is shown at films end which is only hinted at at the beginning, which features long takes, fast and tight fight choreography, and some great stunt work. The only real flaw is the iffy wire work in these sequences, it is unnatural and takes you out of the generally more grounded action. Thankfully the wire elements are few in the overall flow of the film.
In terms of production, the film uses some good historical touches like sets, clothing, and art direction to immerse the characters and viewers into the period. Music is generally forgettable though I will say the final battle scene features some compelling and apropos melodies in the score. The rest of the film’s score is ultimately forgettable unfortunately.
In the end, The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake excels with the the great and mostly realistic action scenes but stalls with the melodrama and shallow performance by Huang Yi. As a lead she’s been better but her unengaging portrayal as Qiu Jin isn’t helped by a lazy script and poor audience empathy. While hardly a terrible film, it fails in its drama while winning in it’s action. I wouldn’t have minded a good 30-45 minutes left on the editing floor, but at least it delivers in one field.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Ip Man: The Legend Begins and/or Hero Youngster