Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Lost Bladesman | 關雲長 [ Movie Review ] ★★★

The Pitch

Donnie Yen as Guan Yu? Can he pull it off? We have idealized Guan Yu as a 7ft tall man with long beard and red face. Donnie Yen is not exactly the tall guy that people would immediately think of when there's any casting rumor for the role of Guan Yu.

But since Donnie Yen is currently the hot property in the Hong Kong / China martial arts film industry, he is obviously the go to guy if you want to sell a martial arts film. Nevertheless he has also shown us that he could carry a dignified aura when he portrayal Ip Man in recent years so the height difference might not matter that much.

It would be interesting to see if his portrayal of Guan Yu could help boost his career in the same way as Ip Man had done previously.

Beside that, he had also roped in directors Alan Mak and Felix Chong (co directors for Lady Cop and Papa Crook & Overheard) and Jiang Wen (Let the Bullets Fly) into this movie about Guan Yu's uneasy friendship with Cao Cao and how he crossed five passes while slaying six Generals. This story arc of Luo Guanzhong's historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms that focus on these two iconic characters had not been adapted for the big screen before and it's likely to draw the fans of epic historical battle of China in.

The Plot

During the warring period of Han Dynasty, Cao Cao (Jiang Wen) had attacked his rival warlord Liu Bei (Alex Fong) and managed to capture Liu Bei's family members. Liu Bei managed to flee while his sworn brother Guan Yu (Donnie Yen) remained under Cao Cao's command. Guan Yu was a formidable warrior and Cao Cao tried to enlist his aid by showering him with gifts and honorary title. However Guan Yu was a loyal friend of Cao Cao's enemy Liu Bei and he rejected Cao Cao's offer.

As Cao Cao tried to sway Guan Yu over to his side, he discovered that Guan Yu is secretly in love with his sworn brother's concubine Qilan (Betty Sun). In a last bid to buy Guan Yu's loyalty, Cao Cao sent Liu Bei's family members back and attempted to trick Guan Yu to show his love to Qilan with aphrodisiac wine. However Guan Yu managed to stay rational and stopped himself from taking advantage of Qilan.

A messenger arrived to inform Guan Yu on Liu Bei's whereabouts and after knowing where his sworn brother was located, he left Cao Cao's camp with Qilan. Cao Cao was unable to stop Guan Yu and due to a previous agreement, gave orders to his generals to give Guan Yu a safe passage through his territory. His generals on the other hand felt that it's a mistake to release Guan Yu back to the rival camp, so they plot to kill Guan Yu as he embarks on the journey back to Liu Bei.

The Perspective

Not being well versed in Romance of the Three Kingdoms, The Last Bladesman was rather tedious and bewildering. There were plenty of things that were left unexplained or shown and being a first timer to this story arc of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, it was difficult to stay afloat with the sequence of things that happened. Let's just say that I had to Wikipedia after the show to get a better idea on what happened.

The significant of Guan Yu "Crossing Fives Passes and Slaying Six Generals" didn't translate well in this adaption. It felt like an excuse to showcase one fight sequence after another. The Wikipedia page on this segment also revealed that The Lost Bladesman had diluted the original tale so that they could fit in the unconvincing love angle between Guan Yu and Qilan. It would have been preferable if they had stick closer to the source material and abandon Qilan as love interest.

Otherwise, it was a relatively entertaining film to introduce newbies to this story arc of Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Donnie Yen was adequate as the legendary Guan Yu but it was Jiang Wen who had stole the show with his rendition of Cao Cao. It might be an unfair comparison as Cao Cao definitely had more intriguing materials to play with. Not exactly a must watch but it wouldn't hurt to catch it.

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