Set in late 19th century China, "The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake" is based on the true story of Qui Jin who embodied the quest for equality between men and women during a time of political revolt and upheaval. Her determination to affect change in her people would become a catalyst for removing the idealogical status-quo of the Qing Dynasty.
The movie's focus, of course, is on the life of Qui Jin and we see it play out and evolve over a series of flashbacks that lead up to what is established at the very beginning. As a young girl, her rebellious nature was established very early on as well as her intelligence and desire to achieve more than what was expected of her. Huang Yi does an outstanding job of portraying the strength, resolve, and determination that defines the character she is portraying.
This often resulted in rebellious behavior although she eventually learns to harness this energy and turns it in to a strength and a major driving force of who she becomes as a woman. It was interesting to see how she was able to adapt to being in an arranged marriage and turn it to her advantage and, while she cared for her husband Ting-jun and the children they had together, she would ultimately have to make personal sacrifices in favor of furthering the causes political and social causes she was fighting for. This, to me, was one of the more emotional dynamics that played out over the course of her story.
There was also a very distinct contrast between Qui's husband Ting-jun who, on the surface, was basically the stereotypical rich kid with no desire to accomplish anything in life other than basking in wealth and her mentor and teacher Xu Xilin (Dennis To) who also rises to power as a leader of the revolution. Ting-jun has obvious faults and he is basically afraid of making any real contribution to anything worthwhile, but you eventually see that the man's love for his wife and children is what ultimately gives him purpose. Xu Xilin, on the other hand, is strong, intelligent, and very focused on what his goals are and how to go about accomplishing them. His leading example is a driving force behind Qui developing her own strengths and you can see that they share a bond that may have played out much differently in another place or time.
One thing I had not expected, which I should have considering this movie was made by "Ip Man" director Herman Yau, was just how action packed the movie is with some really impressive fight choreography and special effects. There are some really epic moments here with big, sweeping visuals and I can think of two fight scenes in particular that had everyone on the edge of their seat and cheering.
If I was to find a flaw in "The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake" it would only be in how much story was packed in to the running time. With a whole life time of a story to tell, this could easily have been a very good trilogy and a lot of the key moments could have had a much bigger impact if given more time to play out. Leaving that aside, the creative team behind this movie still manages to give the audience a gripping historical drama, a tragic love story, and an epic action movie all in one shot and that is an achievement in and of itself.
Check out my other 2012 SIFF reviews HERE!