A Royal Affair by Nikolaj Arcel

A Royal Affair by Nikolaj Arcel


A Royal Affair is set in the 18th century, at the court of the mentally ill King Christian VII of Denmark (played by Mikkel Følsgaard), and focuses on the romance between his wife, Caroline Matilda of Great Britain (played by Alicia Vikander), and the royal physician Johann Friedrich Struensee (played by Mads Mikkelsen).

It’s an exciting story and it’s very well told. At times, I found myself rooting for Caroline and hated King Christian VII. And then when doctor Struensee is introduced, I was rooting for him and Caroline. In the end, all three characters start to develop a triad relationship and King Christian started to become more likable so I rooted for all three of them. It perfectly shifted perspectives at different points of the story and we come to understand the personal meaning behind each character’s actions.

Mads Mikkelsen brings a firm masculine presence to Struensee. He carries a wisdom, which isn’t telegraphed through a typical scene where his character would recite intelligent things in front of the queen as she dilates her pupils impressed. No, it’s acted out in with his body and the way he carries himself. It’s easy to see why the king is charmed by him and why the queen falls in love with him. He is too good of an actor to be wasting his time playing young Hannibal Lecter in an American TV series. Hannibal Lecter is done, that character is just not scary anymore. Please make more movies like this!

Alicia Vikander has very expressive eyes. She communicates the repressed restraint of Queen Caroline Matilda, who is living in her own personal hell where she’s forced to live in constant abuse. She does a good job aging Queen Caroline from an innocent girl to a woman who eventually learns to be a queen. There’s no old age make-up, it’s purely in how she communicates the age from the confidence that one gains from life.

The unsung performance is Mikkel Følsgaard as King Christian VII of Denmark.  I read that King Christian VII has mental illness. They do not really go into that here but he does seem quite insane. On one level it is disturbing to watch because I can see anyone acting as psychotic as he does if one was the king and can do no wrong. But Mikkel Følsgaard communicates that deep down Christian is probably a scared boy that does not know what to do with his power.

If it were up to me, the film deserves Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor for its three leads.

A Royal Affair is well-shot with good production values and beautiful art direction. The film feels very romantic. The dance scene between Caroline and Struensee is sexy. There is a genuine sense of jeopardy because you feel their passion for each other, but like the characters, the audience doesn’t know where their love can ever go. That makes every moment so much more valuable.

One of the best movies I’ve seen so far this year.

Chinese Zodiac 12 by Jackie Chan

Chinese Zodiac 12 by Jackie Chan

Chinese Zodiac 12 by Jackie Chan

A team of thieves lead by JC (played by Jackie Chan) searches the world for a set of mystic artifacts – 12 bronze heads of the animals from the Chinese zodiac.

This is a tricky movie to critique. First of all, Jackie Chan has stated that this is his last time performing his own stunts in a movie. So do I measure CZ12 as a standalone film  or do I position it as a final act in the long line of Jackie Chan’s filmography over the last 30 years?

Secondly, what can I expect from Jackie Chan? As a final bow, what can he do to surprise me? He is long past his physical peak (in my opinion, his top physical peak was Police Story 2). After 20 years of growing up on his films, The “Jackie Chan Action Scene Formula” is forever embedded into my brain; I almost always know how his fight scenes end. In case you do not know what I’m talking about, here it is:

  1. There’s a situation where Jackie Chan is being beaten by a group of people.
  2. The fight leads to an environment/a prop.
  3.  Jackie Chan using the environment/prop, creatively defeats the entire group of people.
  4.  There’s a joke at the end that comes from the environment/prop. End scene.

So, did Chinese Zodiac 12 surprise me? I would say 40% yes, 60% no.

I watched a recent interview that Jackie Chan gave to a mainland show where he said that he did not like casting TV actors in his movies because they take way too much time to get through a scene of dialogue. It seems he went the other extreme, because the dramatic scenes are played out and edited way too quickly. It’s like every dramatic scene was played out on fast-forward and often there is not a lot of time to digest what’s going on. Even comedic moments are neutered from the lack of time to digest them. I found this to be problematic.

Narrative wise, the story takes shortcuts. Characters act out of character at times for story convenience. And seriously, can anyone really buy Jackie Chan being a heartless money-grubbing thief? I’d have an easier time buying Tom Hanks playing a bad guy than Jackie Chan.

So about the set pieces. For what he can’t bring physically, Chan makes it up with scale and locales. The action set pieces are fun, some stand out more than others. My favorite was the bodyblading sequence at the beginning. That was a very tense sequence watching Jackie Chan go head first speeding down a highway. The story and action scenes in CZ12 ask the audience to recall Jackie Chan’s past filmography, notably the two Armour of God movies (You can call this Armour of God 3, if you like). It even drew a few gags from it and there was one set that recalled the drug factory from Dragons Forever. This makes it impossible for me to critique it as a standalone film.

Part of the film’s story is a piece of issue-tainment addressing the issue of museums withholding historical artifacts from their home countries. It’s an issue that Jackie Chan seems to care a lot about and he presents it as an international issue. Although the film treats this issue rather lightly and it does ultimately get buried under the trappings of a Jackie Chan movie, it’s nice to see Chan raising an issue like this in a film.

There are many personal touches like that here, it’s very possible that Jackie Chan can just be a director in the future. There was one noteworthy part of the movie where Jackie Chan actually officially apologizes to his real-life wife for the time they’ve missed together all these years. They reportedly see each other once a year. This moved me by the end. It was not from the story of the film or from a well-earned dramatic catharsis, but because it felt like Jackie Chan was saying goodbye to me.

For anybody who’s unfamiliar with Chan, it’s not a great movie by conventional rules nor would it gain him any new fans. For these people, I refer you to his earlier films, check out The Drunken Master and the Police Story films.

For people who grew up on Jackie Chan movies like I did, I don’t think I can ever stomach the idea of Jackie Chan saying goodbye. My earlier memories of films were of Jackie Chan movies. Watching this movie, I was moved, laughed and exhilirated, all the time thinking maybe this was the last time. If Jackie Chan really chose to retire performing action, CZ12 is a good way to go out.