The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake
aka 競雄女俠秋瑾 aka Jian hu nu xia Qiu Jin
Written by Erica Li Man and Checkley Sin Kwok-Lam
Directed by Herman Yau Lai-To
To say that The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake was a disappointment would be a sad understatement. The biopic of famed femme revolutionary Qiu Jin is about a remarkable woman in a dangerous time, but the entire narrative suffers through flashbacks and a lack of establishing just what the heck is going on. I am familiar with the history of Qiu Jin because she’s interesting, but I still had trouble following the historical who’s who of revolutionaries, both real and consolidated/fake. Unfocused and scattered, The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake jumps from revolutionary speak to scenes trying to depict how women got it tough to speeches about Chinese patriotism to battle scenes involving people the audience has never met. The zig-zagging prevents a good narrative that we can follow, and the flashbacks serve no purpose and don’t correspond to what is happening in the present. It’s like they read about the narrative technique in a book and decided to do it just because it sounded cool. Herman Yau Lai-To has directed some cult classics in years gone by, but his extreme nature seems to have been neutered for bigger paychecks, and along with that, any attempts to do things creatively.
The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake is a very patriotic film. Most discussions on the ills of society end up running into the narrative that China is lead by weaklings, so that’s why everything sucks. And at this time, China was essentially carved up by foreign powers, humiliated, and reform attempts had just ended in disaster. But instead of showing how the failures justify the repeated revolution attempts (there were literally dozens over the years before they took), we just jump to the next problem of women not being able to travel due to children, or Japan restricting what students can say, or Qiu Jin’s husband being an entitled douche.
Beyond the script not following a story arc that makes it easy to follow, the individual scenes themselves are messes at times. The most notable is near the end of the film where there is an attempted assassination of a local governor. The setup and subsequent fight seems to last forever, and it’s filled with unknown people fighting unknown people. Worst of all, we all know the conclusion, because it was in the beginning of the film! This is like worrying if Obi-Won Kenobi is in any trouble in a Star Wars prequel.