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My Mighty Princess
My Mighty Princess

(left) On Joo-Wan and (right) Shin Min-Ah kick some ass in My Mighty Princess
Korean: 무림여대생
Year: 2008  
Director: Kwak Jae-Yong  

Kwak Jae-Yong, Shinho Lee


Dion Lam Dik-On


Shin Min-Ah, On Joo-Wan, Yoo Geon, Lee Dae-Geun, Kim Hyung-Il, Dion Lam Dik-On, Jeong Ho-Bin, Oh Jeong-Se, Im Ye-Jin, Choi Jae-Seong

  The Skinny: Finally released after two years on the shelf, the latest from My Sassy Girl director Kwak Jae-yung goes back to essentially the same formula with heavy wire-fu and some interesting gender twists. Too bad they don’t improve the movie.
Kevin Ma:
Ever since the runaway success of My Sassy Girl, director Kwak Jae-Yong has explored the masculine female mindset so much that his movies are worthy of a thorough psychoanalytic research paper. Made before his Japanese debut Cyborg She (another film featuring a physically superior female protagonist), but released afterwards, My Mighty Princess takes the signature Kwak formula to the world of fantasy martial arts. But for a director who has taken gender-based romantic comedies to the extremes of time travel, science fiction, police thriller, and generation-spanning romance, My Mighty Princess feels like a lightweight detour that lacks the ambition of Kwak’s other works.

With the help of Hong Kong action choreographer Dion Lam, Kwak’s biggest challenge this time isn’t in the plotting, but in working extensively with wire-fu and special effects. Along with co-writer Shinho Lee, the writer-director sets the story in a total fantasy world where Chinese-based martial art terms such as “wudong” (a Chinese martial arts clan) and “Mengzhu” (Clan Master) are thrown around, and sword moves done in mid-air can actually hurt people. But at its core, My Mighty Princess is really just another story about a girl with unexpected strength falling in love.

In My Mighty Princess, that girl is So-Hwi (Shin Min-Ah, replacing Kwak favorite Jeon Ji-Hyun). On the surface, she’s just another typical college student – she studies at the library, attends lectures, and goes drinking with her fellow club members. However, she’s also a martial arts prodigy who jumps over buildings to get to the bus stop and always displays her superhuman strength around the school. Instead of admiration, So-Hwi’s strength provokes fear and resentment from her schoolmates. The situation is so bad that when handsome hockey player Joon-Mo (Yoo Geon) comes into So Hwi's life, she’s determined to hide that power however she can, despite her father’s objections and the looming threat of a powerful villain.

My Mighty Princess would be perfectly fine as an inconsequential, fluffy romantic comedy with a bit of nicely-choreographed action. However, the film then introduces its true leading man in the form of Il-Yeong (On Joo-Wan), So-Hwi’s long-lost childhood friend who tries to get So-Hwi to train again by following her everywhere. This deviates from Kwak’s usual formula, as both male characters are relatively stronger than their male counterparts from the director’s past films. However, Kwak fails to take advantage of the twist, giving Joon-Mo a borderline-creepy infatuation with a middle-age policewoman and turning Il-Yeong into a major source of overwrought melodrama. Without a weak male character as a victim of his female lead’s power, Kwak seems to have lost a major source of his comedy and can only resort to repetitive visual jokes involving So-hwi’s application of her incredible powers.

Thanks to the director’s intention to please, much of the martial arts-related visual jokes work in the first act. However, in addition to the total lack of surprise (guess what happens when So-Hwi joins the ice hockey team, and guess who shows up for a surprise cameo?), Kwak fails to deliver a sense of wonder to the effects. He is so eager to show off his team’s work that by the time the film arrives at its melodrama-driven final showdown, he has nothing else to impress the audience, forcing him to resort to an excess use of voiceovers and flashbacks in trying to build an affecting twist. The problem isn’t the lack of creativity, but rather Kwak’s knowledge of the lack of originality in his material. He doesn’t bother to build any storytelling rhythm in revealing So-Hwi’s powers because he knows that everyone knows what to expect. As a result, the film never effectively builds up any excitement, giving viewers little reason to keep following the story.

The weak characterization doesn’t help Kwak much, either. Despite having a natural youthful charm, Shin Min-Ah is completely charmless in the title role. However, this is more the fault of the script, which gives So-Hwi an empty naiveté, having her react to events more than actively participating in them. Yoo Geon has an interesting role as the uninterested object of So-Hwi’s affection, but the script also wears him down into a supporting character and a victim of the infatuated female gaze. As Il-Yeong, On Joo-Wan has the most challenging role, and initially has fun playing the silly sidekick. However, that undermines the character’s shift to seriousness in the third act, failing to deliver the gravitas of Kwak’s seemingly surprise twist. Again, this is more likely due to Kwak’s handling of the story than On’s acting skills. It is worth noting that despite the three leads’ underwhelming performances, they earn plenty of credit for doing their own stunts.

If there is something refreshing about My Mighty Princess, it’s Kwak’s choice to tone down the dramatics. In his past films, the director has shown a tendency to abruptly tone down the comedy for melodrama, which has sometimes derailed the entire film (think Windstruck). Here, Kwak starts the film off as fluffy entertainment and chooses to end the film in the same fashion, despite the third-act detour into melodrama. Even after the amped-up time traveling epic that is Cyborg She, it shows that Kwak is trying to change up his game a little bit at a time. My Mighty Princess is ultimately more of a step back in his filmography (it’s understandable that it sat two years on the shelf), but I'm a believer of giving credit where it’s due - at least Kwak finally give the boys a bit of the spotlight this time around. (Kevin Ma, 2008)


Region 3 NTSC
Bear Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Original Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Korean Subtitles
Various Extras

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image credit: Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen