The Lost Bladesman (2011)

Director:  Felix Chong & Alan Mak
Cast:  Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Sun Li
Plot:  A tyrant forces the greatest warrior in the land to battle his greatest friend by holding the woman they both love hostage.

Genre:  Action / Drama
Awards:  -
Runtime:  109min
Rating:  PG for some fighting scenes.

The Lost Bladesman may be marketed as an epic Chinese martial arts blockbuster with Donnie Yen heading the cast as well as taking on the role of action choreographer, but there is nothing epic about it, that is if one is talking about the narrative scope of the film. 

Directed and written by Felix Chong and Alan Mak, the duo that was responsible for the success of the 'Infernal Affairs' trilogy, The Lost Bladesman may attract action fans on the basis of their perceived prediction of enjoying a spectacle of dazzling swordfights and quick fistfights.

Action fans will not leave disappointed because there are scenes that pit Yen against a horde of sword-wielding aggressors, just as there are scenes of him fighting a fast-and-furious one-on-one battle with a persistent enemy.  

In one action sequence, the directors are smart to conceal the action behind closed doors.  We can’t see what the hell is happening, but we know it’s hell inside because the whishing sounds of blades slicing through the air are accompanied by loud cries and helpless yells.  Someone’s head then crashes through the door, leaving a hole in which the camera slowly moves towards.  As the camera peeks into that hole, we see a last man standing.

That man, of course, is Yen who plays Guan Yu, a famous character in the popular Chinese novel 'Romance of the Three Kingdoms', who is a sworn brother of Liu Bei.  Liu Bei has insignificant screen time here as the focus is on Guan Yu and his relationship with Qi Lan (Betty Sun), whom he likes and seeks to protect, and with Cao Cao (Jiang Wen), the evil tyrant who is the power behind China’s emperor. 

The Lost Bladesman is not only a more intimate portrayal of Guan Yu, but it also takes a more revisionist approach to developing his character, with a number of scenes depicting his psychological state.  Yen’s acting fits Guan Yu’s dogged determination and resoluteness in the face of life-and-death situations, though in comparison to Jiang Wen’s excellent performance, it remains weak.  

The Lost Bladesman does not reach the dramatic heights of John Woo’s Red Cliff (2008), but it offers a refreshing way to characterize (and not caricaturize) heroes.  After all, no matter how fictionalized or mythical these characters now are, they were once flawed humans battling their inner demons and conflicting desires. 

The Lost Bladesman is not a must-watch, though it will certainly appease action fans, and give others some food for thought.

GRADE: B- (7/10 or 3 stars)

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