The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
May 8, 2012 by Dennis Amith
“The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake” is a very enjoyable and fascinating film that manages to honor the legacy of China’s well-known feminist, revolutionary and writer Qiu Jin and also balancing the film with plenty of action sequences in making this film entertaining for viewers worldwide.
TITLE: The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake (Jian hu nu xia Qiu Jin)
FILM RELEASE: 2011
DURATION: 115 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Mandarin and English, Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Subtitles: English
COMPANY: National Arts, Eleven Arts, FUNimation Entertainment
RATED: TV MA
Release Date: May 15, 2012
Directed by Herman Yau
Written by Erica Lee
Produced by Kwok Sam Sin
Executive Produced by Kwok-Hing Lee, Kwok Lam Sin
Music by Chun Hung Mak
Cinematography by Kwong-hung Chan
Edited by Wai Chiu Chung
Production Design by Raymond Chan
Huang Yi as Qiu Jin
Dennis To as Xu Xilin
Xiong Xin-Xin as Ao Feng
Anthony Wong as Li Zhongyue
Kevin Cheng as Wang Tinjun
Lam Suet as Gui Fu
In late-19th century China, Qui Jin was many things: a defiant rebel armed with both blades and guns, a paramilitary leader dedicated to overthrowing an unjust government, a non-conformist who boldly donned men’s attire in spite of tradition, a radical poet whose words inspired the oppressed, and a heroic martyr whose views on equality altered history. Her steadfast resolve to improve the plight of women and her bravery in the face of tyranny led her to the executioner – but her determination to topple the status-quo changed a nation forever.
In China, one woman has made an impact not just in her country but also around the world. A revolutionary but also a woman known for speaking out for women’s rights. Encouraging women to gain financial independence through education and also learning various professions, so she would not need to depend on a man. But most importantly, rejecting oppression by their families (due to cultural tradition and women looked lower than men) and also at the time, the government of the Quing Dynasty.
She was known for her poetry and essays, wearing Western clothing (usually worn by males) but also being executed in 1907 (via beheading) for what she believed in.
And to this day, she is considered a heroine and a martyr and a symbol of women’s independence in China and a museum has been established in Shaoxing by the People’s Republic of China as well as statues dedicated to Qui Jin.
Needless to say, when films are created in honor of such an important person, those willing to direct a film will surely be scrutinized in China. For one, they will be criticized for its accuracy, how much they honor the actual person and most importantly knowing that certain directors try to integrate plenty of action and martial arts into their movies, will they do the same for Qiu Jin?
Assigned the task of directing this film on an important person in China’s history is director Herman Yau (“The Legend is Born: Ip Man”, “The Eight Immortals Restaurant: The Untold Story”, “True Women for Sale”) and writer Erica Lee (“The Legend is Born: Ip Man”, “King of Comedy”). And cast as Qiu Jin is Huang Yi (“Romancing in Thin Air”, “East Meets West”, “Overheard 2”) and cast as revolutionary leader Xu Xilin is Dennis To (“The Legend is Born: Ip Man”, “Ip Man”, “Ip Man 2”).
And the film did receive its fair share of controversial news stories. The film received delays in China/Hong Kong due to protests by Jin’s grandchildren who worried about the depiction of their grandmother and if they would make her more of an action/martial arts character. The film would eventually debut in October 2011 and Jin’s grandchildren would eventually watch the film at the premiere along with the director Herman Yau and actress Huang Yi.
“The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake” is a film that showcases Qiu Jin in two parts that are mixed together in order to show the influence of Qiu Jin. One part focuses on the battle between the revolutionaries that she had trained at school vs. the Qing government soldiers and events leading to her capture (and execution), as well as the capture of Xu Xilin (played by Dennis To), the leader of the revolution and the person who assassinated the provincial governor of the Anhui Province.
The other part focuses on Qiu Jin’s perspective on life from her young years, her feminist beliefs, her college years in Japan and how she became a revolutionary and worked strongly with Xu Xilin.
With a young Qiu Jin, not understanding why boys are given better treatment over girls. She also resisted in having her feet bound (a common practice in China at the time as small feet was looked at as a positive cultural symbol of beauty at the time) and unlike other girls, she wanted to learn how to ride horses, learn martial arts and swordfighting with her father and brother. It’s a lifestyle that she wanted and her father accepted.
And throughout her teenage years, Qiu Jin was critical on how women were not treated as equals to men. She began to have a perspective that a Western-style government would be much better than the Qing government that was currently in place.
But the time the life of Qui Jin was not exactly the best time for many Chinese who suffered because of the war and treatment by its government. This was during life after the Opium Wars where the Qing Dynasty fought against foreigners but then after losing, later working with them, which led to Chinese people thinking the government was corrupt. Also, the First Sino-Japanese War was also beginning to weaken the trust the people had toward its government.
While Qiu Jin, who was educated and would showcase her expressions through poetry and essays, she would often write about the weakening of China and the repression of women.
She would eventually be arranged in a marriage with the son of the wealthy Wang family, Wang Tinjun (played by Kevin Cheng) and give birth to a son and daughter. But wanting more from her husband in hopes that his influence can lead to a political position that can make a change in China, her husband was not a strong individual like she is. As Wang Tinjun wanted his wife to be like other wives, Qiu Jin was not that kind of a woman.
And through other independent women that she would eventually meet in her area, her conviction of fighting for the rights of women and a stronger government would lead Qiu Jin to leave her husband and children behind and pursue education in Japan.
And through her stay in Japan, she would also meet people who believed in the same ideals that she had, especially Xu Xilin, the person who would be the spoken leader for the Zehjiang students who were anti-Qing. Xu Xilin would establish a publishing house and a public school (which would actually be used to train revolutionaries), a school that Xu Xilin has put his trust in Qiu Jin of running.
And the two storylines come full circle as the Quing officials go after Qiu Jin, who is considered a partner of Xu Xilin and she is taken to court where she would receive a trial. While Qing court official Li Zhongyue (played by Anthony Wong) admires Qiu Jin for her writing and education, unfortunately the Qing court is corrupted and will do all they can to get Qiu Jin to admit that she is a revolutionary, even by means of torture.
“The Woman Kniht of Mirror Lake” is dramatized biography on the life of Qiu Jin, dramatized in a way that there are plenty of action sequences, such as Xu Xilin leading the revolutionaries to fight against the Qing soldiers and also a one-on-one battle between Qiu Jin vs. Qing official Ao Feng (played by Xiong Xin-Xin).
“The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:39:1 aspect ratio). The film absolutely looks fantastic in HD as the scenes are vibrant during the outdoor sequences. The costume and set design were wonderful to look at and detail can be seen in clothing and structures. I didn’t notice any artifacts or banding during my viewing of the film. But for the most part, video quality for “The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake” is great!
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake” is presented in Dolby TrueHD Mandarin and English 5.1. Dialogue and music is crystal clear but I was hoping for a bit more of an immersive mix due to the number of action sequences in the film. Surround channels are utilized, especially during music sequences but for the most part, the lossless soundtrack is good but I was hoping to hear more directional sounds and ambiance with the action sequences and the large number of crowds featured in the film.
“The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake” comes with the following special features:
- Making Of – A 20+ minute featurette showing behind-the-scenes making of and also interviews with the cast of “The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake”.
- Trailers – Funimation Entertainment trailers
“The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake” comes with the Blu-ray and DVD edition of the film plus a slipcover case.
“The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake” is my favorite film based on Qiu Jin’s life. It’s really difficult for Chinese/Hong Kong filmmakers to create films based on major symbols of Chinese history because viewers tend to expect action and not something so dramatic and serious for the full extend of a film.
We saw it last year with “Confucius”, which was a major challenge for the filmmakers but they managed to find a balance and not focus entirely on philosophy which may have enticed a niche of viewers but for the masses in China/Hong Kong, you need to have this action element.
While the fact that Herman Yau was directing the film and coming off the success of “The Legend of Ip Man”, I was not surprised that the film would integrate martial arts. I felt that actress Huang Yi and also Dennis To did a great job playing the characters. Huang Yi manages to give a strong commanding role as Qiu Jin but also showing that she also has an emotional side when she knows that she must separate from her family and children, but it’s that resolve knowing of the sacrifice she needs to make for the greater good.
Dennis To is known as an action star but manages to portray the character of Xu Xilin as a strong leader for those revolting against the Qing government. And sure enough, his experience in “The Legend of Ip Man” is quite evident during his choreographed martial arts sequence in the film.
But the talent and interaction that I enjoyed the most was between Qiu Jin and Qing court official Li Zhongyue (played by Anthony Wong). Wong does a fantastic job of playing the court official who respects the intelligence and writings of Qiu Jin but knows that he is powerless as a court official, despite seeing the corruptness by his colleagues. The character is so passionate about Qiu Jin’s written work to the point he has memorized it. And these interactions between both individuals were endearing and added to the depth of Qiu Jin’s character.
“The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake”‘ is a thrilling story, may it be the movie or just reading about the history of Qiu Jin that captivates you. She was an independent thinker who had strong convictions until the very end of her life. While I’m not an erudite of Qiu Jin and what is real and what is not real, I do know from what I have read is that Qiu Jin and Xu Xilin are cousins and read stories that that in real life, she was convicted for documents that show that she was a revolutionary, while in the film, she is shown as a person who was being convicted with no proof.
While the film manages to be entertaining and has a good balance showcasing Qiu Jin’s life as a feminist and the sacrifices that she made for her beliefs, the action sequences which Qiu Jin’s grandchildren actually worried about before the film was released, was also a cause of concern for me as well.
I didn’t want to see Qiu Jin flying in air, nor did I want to see the action look fake. If you want to show people fighting with swords, guns, then make it realistic. While it is known that Qiu Jin learned martial arts, part of me doubts that the real Qiu Jin engaged in such battles. And not so sure if Xu Xilin and his fellow revolutionaries were engaged in the same type of battle as depicted in the film, but I will tell you what I didn’t like, the wire work of explosions. We see people floating in air and flipping 360’s, it looked really fake considering the fighting choreography was well-done.
Granted, once again, it’s a double-edged sword of whether or not you want to see these long action sequences in a film about Qiu Jin’s life.
As for the Blu-ray release, video quality is fantastic and audio was very good (although I would have loved it to be much more immersive during the action sequences). You get one making of special feature and also with the Blu-ray release, you also get the DVD version of the film included as well.
Overall, “The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake” is a very enjoyable and fascinating film that manages to balance the life of Qiu Jin and making sure it honors her legacy but also knowing that for viewers who expect action, there is also enough action sequences to entertain audiences. With back and forth pacing, the storytelling is done well and not at all confusing. While I do feel the action sequences were over the top at times, the storyline,which may not be historically accurate, does honor Qiu Jin and the biopic is entertaining. And in the end, Herman Yau and Erica Lee accomplished their goal.
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