The Princess Director Le-Van Kiet On Long Takes And Breathless Action [Interview]

In a past interview, "Furie" director Le-Van Kiet gave me just one detail about his newest work, "The Princess," which he said would be a cross between "Sleeping Beauty" and "John Wick." Curiosity, had. Attention, gained.

Now that "The Princess" is just around the corner, I sure was fortunate to catch up with Kiet again to dive a bit deeper into the project, a fantasy actioner about a princess (Joey King) having to literally fight her way to freedom after a tyrant (Dominic Cooper) tries to forcibly take her hand in marriage. King is also one of the film's executive producers, alongside Neal H. Moritz of "The Fast and the Furious" and Derek Kolstad of — surprise! — "John Wick."

Although our chat was brief, Kiet shed light on how the crossing of paths between a Vietnamese American filmmaker and a genre totally new to him came about, building action sequences (that you can see!), and reuniting with Veronica Ngo.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

'You're not taken out of the fight from cuts and manipulation'

"The Princess" is another first for you, I believe. Not your first action film, of course, because we all remember "Furie" and how good that was. But this is your first medieval action fantasy film. How was it?

Yeah, it was a blast. And it was scary. On the surface it's like, "Wait, what? From 'Furie' and you're doing an action medieval [film]?" And so I was scratching my head myself. I was kind of asking the producers, "Are you sure you got the right guy?" But I think, having read the script and talking about why this movie needs to exist, it's not the material things. It's basically the heart of the character.

Got it.

The imagery of this young woman who matures in one day, and are we going to be with her and appreciate the movie by the end? That's what really drives me to do this movie. And then everything else is just design and just this genre stuff that just makes it fun.

Right. Speaking of fun, the fight sequences, they're a high point. And I noticed that you opted for extended takes or, at the very least, just minimal editing. Was that a conscious creative decision?

That was something I was pushing for right at the beginning. But there were a lot of bumps on the road because one is, when you're trying to push for that, your lead has to be good to do that. But that wasn't something that I was pushing on Joey for at all, because we just didn't know what kind of level she was ready for. But that has always been at the back of my mind — that's the kind of movie I wanted to make.

It's a huge luck of the draw, and also just the commitment that she puts into this movie, that she actually can do it. And we were very happy by the time we were shooting that we did what we targeted for, [which] was this breathless type of action that you're with her. You're not taken out of the fight from cuts and manipulation. That was just a very pleasant thing to do.

I chatted with Joey earlier, but I didn't get to say how adept she was with those weapons, and with martial arts in general. Let's elaborate on that a little bit — you said it was lucky Joey could do it.

Joey's been on sets all of her life, and so that helped her out in terms of the filmmaking mechanics. And so obviously, we couldn't expect her to be a black belt martial artist within two months or something like that! We've worked with actors and actresses that are new before, so we knew just the right things to teach her and choreo[graph] with her.

The action team is a big team. It takes a village to do this. It takes everybody's expertise, and so they're the best at what they do. We work with the same guys that we did "Furie" with, and Veronica coming in there and giving Joey some pointers and things like that just made it just the best situation for Joey to succeed. But in the end, she has to do it. She has to take that risk to be in the middle of these things that are very dangerous.

'There could be a Vietnamese person in medieval times'

Speaking of "Furie," how was it reuniting with the "chị đại" (big sis) of Vietnamese action, or Hai Phượng herself, Veronica Ngo?

Oh, yeah. You said it just yourself, she's the obvious choice. But also, we wanted the heart and the emotion to be part of that. Veronica is very happy about that because she doesn't need to prove anything anymore. You don't want to be in a bar fight with Veronica, because I've seen her busted knuckles on set!

But I think we've given her a different thing to elevate her range. In this film, it's endearing, it's the heart, and it reverberates throughout the whole film that everybody appreciates. It just uplifts the film in a different way where it's not a soulless action movie, but it's also got heart and endearment. And so Veronica was a joy; she brought in a lot of experience. She and I have been through the trenches together, but in this film it was different because it was a more emotional character for her. I think she appreciates that. So do I.

Not to mention, she's booked and busy as well, because right after this "The Old Guard 2" is coming up and it's just amazing to see.

Well-deserved. And I appreciate the studio taking a chance on us, giving me and Veronica a chance to represent and let the world show that, "Look, guys, just keep at it, keep doing what you're doing." There's an audience out there, studios are looking for it. Just be good at what you are doing and be confident. Veronica's there, I'm here, we're all doing it, and keep it up. And there could be a Vietnamese person in medieval times — why not? It's fine!

As far as I know, our people have always been here, so might as well!


I also remember that in a previous interview, you were in London at the time, obviously filming this. I bet it was a different battle for you as well with the Covid restrictions and being abroad at the same time. But now this baby is out in the world. How do you feel?

I feel I've been through raising a child. It's grown up, it's turned 18. It's now an adult, but I still care about it. I still have deep feelings for it. But it belongs to the audience now and it belongs to the world. I am very confident we've brought something out there that everyone's going to enjoy for the right reasons, and just have a great time, but come away with it with a great message of empowerment and self-identity.

Awesome. Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Me speaking in Vietnamese more. Xin chào Việt Nam, mọi người và các bạn (Hello Vietnam, everyone and friends!)

Cám ơn rất nhiều (Thanks a lot).

Cám ơn (Thank you)!

"The Princess" will stream on Hulu on July 1, 2022.