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Original Title:
Jian hu nu xia Qiu Jin

Hong Kong, China 2011

Action, Drama

Herman Yau

Huang Yi
Dennis To
Anthony Wong
Kevin Cheng
Rose Chan
Pat Ha
Lam Suet
Lau Siu-Ming
Wong Yau-Nam
Tsui Tin-Yau

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The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake

Story: Qiu Jin (Huang Yi) is far ahead of her time. She is born a woman and is therefore prevented by society from effectively doing something for her country. The only thing she has left is writing poems in order to carry her thoughts into the world. Through her husband (Kevin Cheng) she tries to widen her influence and help the people, but he doesn't see himself bound to carry out any revolutionary tasks. But that's just what Qiu Jin wants: a revolution against the corrupt Manchu-government. She wants to take power over China from the hands of Westerners and also wants gender equality at last. Eventually, she leaves her family behind and goes to Japan to study. There she makes the acquaintance of Xu Xilin (Dennis To) with whom she plans a revolution in China. Back in China Qiu Jin becomes the head of a school that trains revolutionaries while Xu plans an assault on a high-ranking official. During the assault Qiu Jin is supposed to lead her revolutionaries to the front as well. A bloody massacre is the result...

Review: Nowadays, there are already numerous bio-pics about China's national heroes. However, "The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake" is no big budget production but strives to be an epic retelling of Qiu Jin's life and by doing that focuses on the characters instead of epic battles. This proves to be one of the obvious assets of the movie. Still, the film struggles with some problems at the beginning. Those who aren't really familiar with China's history will be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information in the introduction. To really take it in needs some time and so it also becomes difficult at first to weave an emotional bond to Qiu Jin and the other characters.

Fortunately, it's almost solely the first half hour that is problematic. The movie's story is told in a flashback and we get to see the events from Qiu Jin's perspective whose uprising has failed and who is now facing trial. We get to know more about this woman and the actual historical events are delivered as a side note. Slowly we also get an emotional link to the happenings. Qiu Jin's commitment fighting for equal gender rights is very fascinating but is almost entirely in the interest of women being allowed to serve their country like men do. This makes a very patriotic tone become apparent throughout the whole film which can also become quite tiring at times. However, after all it needs a revolution to actually bring the beloved home country back to former glory.

Qiu Jin's fight for a better China seems to be a hopeless cause, because as a woman her hands are tied. Only when she meets Xu Xilin this changes and her lifelong dream of a revolution seems to be within her grasp. However, all in all this revolution isn't really in the center of the film but instead Qiu as a person is. Of course this also means that the film doesn't always stick to historical facts, which leads to the poet also being an extraordinary martial artist, but the threedimensional picture that is drawn of her makes "The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake" a character drama as well. After all, Qiu has to leave her family for her beliefs and this even more than once. We are constantly reminded that despite all her goals she is also a wife and mother so that her decision causes her a lot of pain.

Huang Yi ("Overheard 2") fills the shoes of the national heroine pretty well. At times she seems a bit wooden but that could also be due to the fact that she has to play a serious role and that the other characters aren't looking colorless at all. Aside from Anthony Wong and Dennis To ("The Legend is Born - Ip Man") shining in the supporting roles Qiu Jin's husband isn't just drawn as a cowardly official, who rather prefers to live off the wealth of his parents instead of making use of it to change the world, either. The characters are surprisingly complex, it's just that it takes a while until we are truely interested in their fate. This is mainly the fault of the film's narration, which jumps through the years and outlines several decades. Yet this is also typical for a bio-pic.

Despite the character drama, and during later minutes "Woman Knight" actuially manages to be touching, there are also a few action scenes to be found. Director Herman Yau captures them on the same high quality level as he did for his "The Legend is Born - Ip Man". The kung fu is used sparingly but really stands as the movie's action highlight, especially the showdown can be absolutely captivating when it comes to action. Huang Yi cuts a fine figure in her fights, too, and therefore it is even somewhat of a shame that we didn't get to see more of them.
Herman Yau's newest movie is a biopic that takes liberties with the historical correctness and unfortunately also takes a while until we grow fond of the characters. But after that the film suprises as a character drama that brings the life of the extraordinary woman Qiu Jin to the big screen appropriately.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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