Hong Kong, 2011: The Lost Bladesman
Guan Yun Chang
“The Lost Bladesman”
Hong Kong, 2011
Genre: Action, Historical
Torn between love and loyalties, the legendary General Guan Yu must fight his way to peace.
Written and directed by Alan Mak and Felix Chong, the pair that created the Infernal Affairs trilogy, The Lost Bladesman explores the journey of Guan Gong through the Five Passes, based on the classic Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Although many were surprised to see Donnie Yen in the lead role, he delivers a solid performance, more than making up for not quite looking the part. Though the role doesn’t let him display much range or character development, it does allow him to give a sophisticated and nuanced performance. Unfortunately, the story itself is choppy and difficult to follow, which overshadows Yen’s best efforts. The plot is overly complicated, with too many characters and cities, and spending time going into their political relationships seems much more suited to literature than film. The actual dialogue itself isn’t that bad, with some clever lines and giving good depth to the major players. Jiang Wen as the warlord Cao Cao was fantastically intriguing, and definitely steals the spotlight in every scene he’s in.
Director of photography Chi Ying Chan took a lot of chances with this project, and not all of them were successful. The very ambitious shooting was perhaps a bit too artful without focusing on the needs of the story first. Though there are places where Chan’s work shines, it doesn’t make up for the others that are too experimental for their own good. It didn’t help that the editing was more than a little sloppy, making it even more difficult to follow the action on screen. The art design was historic and appropriate, but felt a bit generic and lacked anything really innovative or interesting. This might be in the interest of period accuracy, but for a story this epic, I was expecting a bit more flavor. The score and sound design are fittingly heavy and powerful, surprisingly generating a lot more interest than the visuals.
In addition to starring in the lead role, Donnie Yen also took the reins for action director, along with collaborator Hua Yan. Although some of the larger battle sequences felt a bit simplistic, the smaller scale fights were amazing. The choreography was clever and very creative, taking advantage of both the sets and audience expectations. The combat felt legendary and larger than life, which was exactly what it needed to be. This is definitely not an elegant adaptation the classic tale, but it is still a worthwhile one. The Lost Bladesman is the Guan Yu movie you’ve been waiting for, give this one a shot.
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