Donnie Yen is an unstoppable force who seems to be releasing a film every year non-stop and having much in common with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Lost Bladesman wastes no time in getting to the heart of its story. A friend of mine is a huge fan of the video game series The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, so he was thrilled to hear that this film depicts a real life warrior from that period. In fact, Guan Yun-chang is arguably the number one icon in China’s historic heroic figures. One local columnist has pointed out that this hero is worshipped with equal fervour by both law enforcers and the criminal underworld today. If you are still confused by the significance, this was also the time period that was the inspiration for John Woo’s Red Cliff.
In the time of the Eastern Han Dynasty, General Cao Cao attempts to out-maneuver his rivals. One of them is Liu Bei, who defends his realm at any cost. Guan Yu, who I mentioned earlier, who is played by Donnie Yen, Bei’s brother, is captured by Cao Cao and forced to serve him. Eventually freed, Guan Yu embarks on a quest to rejoin his brother and repel the dark forces enveloping his kingdom. That said, those looking for another dose of Ip Man style sparring may be left wanting, as Guan Yu mostly fights with the guan dao spear. After all, he was so skilled with it, it was named after him. Yen who never disappoints in the action department has recently demonstrated that he can also act. In this movie, we see him face a new challenge. He has proved his acting chops in works like Bodyguards and Assassins and Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, and he delivers a decent performance here as the recognised deity in Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Again, if you are a gamer and you have played any Dynasty Warriors game, you will be right at home!
This may not be Infernal Affairs material, but expect to be engaged in a high octane drama that features some truly intelligently dramatic lines. The dramatic heights might lack, but it offers a refreshing way to characterize heroes. With so much reference material on this time period, they could have easily went the silly, Hollywood route of caricaturizing the main characters. Romance of the Three Kingdoms cannot possibly be made into a one off feature film, but it contains a lot of stories and characters that serve as a wealth of resource material to tap upon for translation to the big screen. This could perhaps be viewed as a flaw, but this probably isn’t the best and won’t be the last of the lot, and despite its flaws, still managed to turn in some pure entertainment.
All in all, Donnie Yen films stumble from time to time but he proves why he is a legend in the game. It’s Guan Yu’s journey with Qilan that takes him across the five passes and into the path of Cao Cao’s six generals, all out to kill him. However, the film sports some unique ways to spotlight bouts. For example, Mak & Chong opt not to show us the skirmish at all, instead having a monumental battle take place behind closed doors. Films like The Lost Bladesman establish a new reputation for the industry. Whether it is good or bad is up to you, but I am a huge Dynasty Warrior’s game fan who has played almost all of the games. From Cao Cao to Lui Bei, it was nice to see them immortalized on the screen and they’re pretty much all bad-ass. Those unfamiliar with the original novel may be thrown off balance with the massive setup of this period piece. Luckily, I didn’t fall victim to the films overwhelming presence.