The Imperious Princess

Reviewed by YTSL

What seems more unlikely?  That Warner Brothers be the distributor of a huangmei diao film (broadcast on the Celestial channel), or that I -- who am not exactly noted for loving high-pitched sounds (cf. my reaction to the squeaks and screeches of Hsu Chi) -- would sit through a viewing of a yellow plum opera production with a smile pretty much permanently plastered on my face?  Rather than answer this difficult question, I’ll just thank my lucky stars for both of these events having occurred and then proceed to further discuss a wonderfully entertaining offering that I sincerely hope that more Asian filmophiles will get the opportunity to check out sooner than later.

Unlike many of the more famous huangmei opera efforts, THE IMPERIOUS PRINCESS is neither a Shaw Brothers presentation nor directed by Li Han Hsiang.  Additionally, this 1980 Taiwanese work -- whose helmer is the Chin Han who graced many a Shaw Brothers production plus is the husband of Ivy Ling Po (as opposed to the younger man who was Brigitte Lin’s frequent co-star and former lover) -- was released some time after the genre’s golden age had passed.  These facts might have mattered a great deal to connoisseurs of this particular cinematic form.  However, about all that’s important to this neophyte fan of the now rare, well nigh extinct even, kind of film is that it boasts two absolutely delightful stars in the Queen of Huangmei Opera Films, Ivy Ling Po, and the pre-“Aces Go Places” -- never mind “Tempting Heart”, “Forever and Ever” and “Princess D” -- Sylvia Chang; both of whose considerable presence alone can make a movie very much worth viewing.
To moon-faced Sylvia Chang fell the title role of THE IMPERIOUS PRINCESS; a haughty lass who her father, the Emperor of China (played by Chao Lei), promised to the sixth and, until then, sole unmarried son of a loyal plus eminent general.  The witty movie’s willowy main man -- another of that illustrious military family who had distinguished himself in battle -- is portrayed by the once more cross-dressing Ivy Ling Po (A charismatic actress, to be sure, but one who I actually find less believable as a man than Brigitte Lin but, at the same time, more so than, say, Cheng Pei Pei in “Come Drink with Me”).  Described by his father as being perhaps too arrogant for his own good, the twinkly-eyed Gao Ai actually comes across as less this way inclined and more “just” full of cocksure confidence as well as no small amount of charm; a combination that ensured that he would get into all sorts of tight spots but as assuredly get out of the same.
Be that as it may, the first sign that trouble would dog the lively paced film’s principal pair upon their getting together came at the first true meeting between THE IMPERIOUS PRINCESS and her then husband-to-be.  Unmindful of the old adage that one ought not look a gift horse in the mouth, the bold warrior who had been gifted an Emperor’s daughter for a wife sought to sneak a peek at the woman he had been put down to marry.  Seeing a chance to do so when she paid a visit to a temple, Gao Ai disguised himself as a monk to catch a glimpse of her and, as it turned out, barely was able to avoid getting his head shaved and being made an unmarried along with holy man for real and for life on her orders.
Rather than be put off by this narrow escape, however, Gao Ai came away from this near disastrous encounter all smitten and prepared to abide by whatever conditions got stipulated by THE IMPERIOUS PRINCESS before she would agree to accept his hand in marriage.  As it turned out, three demanding ones were named by this undoubtedly spoilt -- even if just as indisputably winning when she wanted to be -- royal; all of which were meant to serve to emphasize that she would stay a princess even while also being a wife (and of a non blue blood to boot).  And for the record, these included her consort not being allowed to venture into their quarters unless he had been expressly invited to do so by his wife (and having to find this out via the hanging up of a red lantern at the entrance to this private space).
For a time, Gao Ai swallowed his pride and was able to lead a reasonably happy life in the palace confines that his spouse patently was much more at home with than him.  Matters came to a boil and head, however, on his parents’ combined birthday when the filial son experienced great difficulty getting THE IMPERIOUS PRINCESS to go and pay her respects to her father- and mother-in-law.  After a fist as well as biting insults flew between the married couple, much worse looked to be on its way; and this especially when the royal personage went and sought to enlist the sympathy plus aid of her parents.  Suffice to say though that the way that this issue gets resolved is one that is completely in keeping with this thoroughly satisfying as well as sparkling work’s enjoyable overall tone.  As such, I had little trouble coming away from my viewing of that which -- if I’m not mistaken -- has yet to be released on a legitimate home video with the sense that it had been a real privilege to catch this little cited cinematic gem from yesteryear.

My rating for the film: 9.