The Princess, premiering July 1 on Hulu, is a new action thriller that takes the traditional damsel-in-distress narrative and turns it on its held to go on a fast-paced adventure as one woman fights her way to freedom. Joey King (who stars in Netflix’s popular The Kissing Booth franchise) plays the princess trapped in the tower, but who needs to prince to help her escape and take back her kingdom from her evil fiancé.
In order to prepare for The Princess, King has to train intensely alongside the stunt crew. Director Le-Van Kiet has been making a name for himself with martial arts crime thriller Furie and shark horror story The Requin, and his latest film takes that action expertise to a new level. Other important cast members include Dominic Cooper (Preacher) as the evil lord pining for a throne, Olga Kurylenko (Black Widow) as his right hand woman, and Veronica Ngo (The Old Guard) as the princess’ fighting instructor Linh.
Screen Rant spoke to the accomplished director about how he approached the fight sequences in The Princesswhich scenes were the most difficult to get right, and how much fun Dominic Cooper had playing a villain.
Screen Rant: I love how you just hit the ground running, with no room to breathe from the very start. How do you prepare for that, and how do you prepare Joey for that?
Le-Van Kiet: It’s all in the story because, constructing it, we wanted to hit the ground running. We knew our fans are going to come in there and say, “Okay, what else are you gonna give me? I get it. There’s a princess, she’s trapped in a tower.” It’s a universal story all across the globe, everybody knows the image of it – and I think that was enough. Then we just wanted to pull the rug under everybody.
For Joey to be ready for all this, we really hit the ground with her too. The very first day, when she wrapped her last movie, she was already in gym. She’s so committed; she’s so ready. We trained her in the basics, but she’s such a well-trained actress in terms of being on set since she was a little kid. She picked up all the notes really quickly, in terms of, “We only need this, we only need that.” Because this is a movie, we’re only shooting a certain things. The drama is really good and what’s going to sell the action, and there’s a story within the fight.
We gave her every tool and everything to work with, especially with an action team like this, who’s all behind her. It takes a village, and she got all the support. But in the end, it’s her doing it. And she did.
And she did fabulously. What was the most challenging aspect for you? Was there any scene or stunt that took the most work to make happen, or that was the hardest to get from your vision to the screen?
Le-Van Kiet: In a technical sense, the stairway was the most difficult for us, because we were trying to make this big structure work visually and orient everybody. But not only that, we made it safe for the stunt team. There could be 30 guys at one time at one place in this set that was built, and we had to deal with safety and all that and visual effects. And so that was technically a very difficult scene to construct together. I think it works really well.
But physically, surprisingly, the scene that we had a hard time with was when we shot outside in the forest, where she was being taught by Linh. We kept it beautiful, and we kept it a very Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon kind of visual. But we did not realize that was going to be straining on the actors, because we could not use doubles. We did not cut; we had wide shots only. But they did not complain, they just went through the fights. They did not have breaks within the takes, and they just did it like 50 times in really hot weather. That was one of the toughest days. Yeah,
Speaking of Linh, I think her dynamic with Princess was my favorite aspect of the film. I love the different training styles and mentor relationship. It feels like there’s so much unspoken between them. Can you talk about approaching that relationship and working with both actresses?
Le-Van Kiet: The Princess’ journey, it was already structured that she’s supposed to be doing this in secret. She’s not meant to be this warrior, and she had to hide it. Linh was built into the script as this mentor and this person of inspiration that she can rely on other than her parents or her family.
We leaned more into that, because we wanted that heart to give her the strength throughout the whole film. And even at the end, there’s this great earned moment that they’ve been through something together and they’ve conquered this patriarchal society that is burning them.
We felt that Linh’s character had to be this heartfelt. [In] one action movie, that’s hard to do, because you want the action fans to appreciate the action. But then you do not want people to come into a soulless movie.
I love how you said the archetype of the princess and her story is already present in our minds, which it very much is. We can just fill in the blanks. But when you’re on set or talking with the actors, did they ever ask for the blanks? Like, “Tell me more about this aspect,” or “Tell me more about the background for this character?”
Le-Van Kiet: We did. We tried our best to create this antiquity world that could have existed. It was a certain time in history that this society tried its best to exist in the way that it should. But our actors were so good at filling in the blanks, and every scene, they just made it all work together because there are professionals and they are way better at it than me.
But I talked to Linh [played by Veronica Ngo] about how she’s a warrior, and how she’s in a war torn country. She’s more or less an immigrant into this land, and she’s been accepted. It’s not utopia, but she’s been somewhere [worse].
And here’s the princess growing up. She’s grown up in diversity; all around her is diversity, and she’s used to that. She knows what’s right and what’s wrong, and for a young person like that, who’s navigating this world, she’s willing to take the risk to fight for it.
Absolutely. When you’re looking for your next project, what is it that you most want to bring to the table? And what is it that draws you to your next work?
Le-Van Kiet: First and foremost, it’s character. If there’s something for me to do there that elevates that character, I think that’s the starting point. And then after that, if I have room enough to breathe in terms of designing the set pieces – the action set piece, or even the drama set pieces – that does well with tension or character development, that just drives me to be consistently improving.
That’s really what makes a great movie, because you can never come into a movie before you shoot, knowing exactly how it’s going to be you know. You consistently have to change and improve when you feel that your characters in the movie deserve it.
Dominic Cooper as the villain is deliciously evil. How much fun is it to lean into that? Were you ever like, “Even more,” or actually, “Too much?”
Le-Van Kiet: Dominic and I really wanted to go all out on this character. He wanted to try things, he wanted to be nasty, he wanted to be vicious. He also wanted to be debonair and the hunk that he is in his romantic comedies, but he wanted to be this great [villain]. There are lot of levels, in terms of range, to this creature. And I said, “Yes, those are all great things that you should be trying and doing.”
Because he brought the villain’s soul to this character that is not really clear on the page. Because on the page, it’s a very standard archetypal character. But here’s this person that comes across as this narcissist, but [he] kind of has a reason for what he’s doing. And there are people out there in this world that have that reason, so I felt that he was very believable and very relevant in our times.
The Princess Synopsis
When a beautiful, strong-willed princess refuses to wed the cruel sociopath to whom she is betrothed, she is kidnapped and locked in a remote tower of her father’s castle. With her scorned, vindictive suitor intent on taking her father’s throne, the princess must protect her family and save the kingdom.
Check out our interviews with The Princess star Joey King and writers Ben Lustig & Jake Thornton.
More: 15 Excellent Action Movies With Female Leads You Can Stream Right Now
The Princess will be available to stream July 1 on Hulu.
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