The Lost Bladesman
Year of release: 2011
Genre: martial arts
Directors: Felix Chong, Alan Mak
Action director: Donnie Yen
Writers: Felix Chong, Alan Mak
Producers: Abe Kwong, Wang Tian Yun
Cinematography: Chan Chi Wing
Editing: Kowng Chi-Leung
Music: Henry Lai
Stars: Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Chin Siu-Ho, Andy On, Betty Sun Li, Dong Yong, Alex Fong
Not rated; contains IIB-level violence
Movie Review Index
Taking on the iconic character of Guan Yu would undoubtedly be a challenge for any actor, but one would think that Donnie Yen, currently the reigning king of Chinese martial arts movies after his work in box offices smashes like Ip Man, could rise to the challenge, especially since he was also given the reigns of action direction as well on this production. Why, then, do The Lost Bladesman's end results come off as so limp and lackadaisical, with as much depth as the pages the script was written on?
Guan Yu was a general under the leadership of warlord Liu Bei during the Han Dyansty period of Chinese history. His exploits on the battlefield, which were subsequently told in many stories, most notably Luo Guanzhong's novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, have given Guan folk hero status to the point that many Chinese people, from cops to gangsters to businessmen, will pray to statues of him for good luck. But, if all one knew of Guan Yu was his portrayal in The Lost Bladesman, they might wonder why such a dull and indecisive man came to be so revered.
The movie takes place in approximately the year 200 AD, when Guan was captured by the rival warlord Cao Cao (Jiang Wen). Cao Cao realizes that Guan Yu could be more valuable as an ally rather than an enemy, and tries to convince Guan to switch loyalties. But Guan's allegiance to Liu Bei cannot be broken, and so Cao Cao gives Guan his freedom, a move that does not sit well with Cao's troops. As Guan tries to make his way back to Liu Bei, he must fight of a series of assassins determined to stop him once and for all.
Now, this should be a fine setup for some good old-fashioned no-nonsense martial arts action. And, to its' credit, some of the fights here are well done. But the better scenes of fisticuffs are too few and far between to provide any true impact to the audience. Instead, for the most part, we get fight scenes where Donnie has either been heavily assisted by wires or doubled, if we even see him at all. One fight takes place behind closed doors. Ostensibly, this was done for artistic effect, but it comes off as cinematic wankery, and worse yet, boring. When you combine this with dramatic scenes that come off like the actors are reading cue cards, there's very little of value for The Lost Bladesman to offer a potential audience, unless they're part of the few that haven't had their fill of historical martial arts films.
This movie has been released in North America by Anchor Bay. This version runs at 109 minutes, which is two minutes shorter than the original Chinese version. The disc has an anamorphic 2.35:1 picture accompanied by a Mandarin soundtrack in Dolby 5.1 with English and Spanish subtitles available. There are no extras on the disc.
The DVD is available from Amazon.