Director: Felix Chong, Alan Mak
Writer: Felix Chong, Alan Mak
Producer: Abe Kwong Man, Wang Tian Yun
Cast: Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Chin Siu Ho, Andy On Chi Kit, Betty Sun Li, Dong Yong, Alex Fong Chung Sun, Calvin Li Zong Han, Shao Bing, Wang Bo Chieh, Wang Xuebing, Zhao Ke
Running Time: 107 min.
Hong Kong’s biggest superstar Donnie Yen teams up with the filmmaking duo behind the “Infernal Affairs” sequels, Felix Chong and Alan Mak, for this Three Kingdoms-era action romp. While “The Lost Bladesman” lacks the epic scope and ‘cast of thousands’-style appeal of John Woo’s “Red Cliff” films, it more than makes it for it with Donnie Yen’s top-notch action choreography and a compelling performance from Jiang Wen (“Let the Bullets Fly“) as the brilliant military strategist and real life historical figure, Cao Cao.
Donnie Yen himself steps into the role of the fearsome God General Guan Yu. Some Chinese audiences criticized Yen’s casting since Guan Yu has always been thought of as a giant of a man, but such quibbles seem silly when you consider that, no matter his real size, Donnie has always dominated the big screen. He’s perfectly adept at bringing Guan Yu to life, even if you might grow weary of just how ridiculously stoic and righteous the character is. Yes, this is another role where Donnie plays a character who has no discernible flaws whatsoever. It’s almost like one of those old 80’s Chuck Norris movies – Donnie is so invincible here that the bad guys are constantly trying to drug or poison him just to level the playing field.
If Guan Yu comes across as frustratingly one-note, then that’s exactly why Jiang Wen is in the film. The qualified character actor brings Coa Cao to life in a multi-faceted performance. Cao Cao knows how to work the room with snake-like charm, and at the same time you can never truly tell if what he’s doing is for his own personal interest or for the greater good. Without Jiang Wen’s presence, “The Lost Bladesman” would have likely been a simple fist-pumping action movie, but his role gives the film much needed dimension and intrigue. There is a complexity to his character that is rarely explored in these Chinese historical pictures.
Of course, if you just want to tune out and enjoy the action, then “The Lost Bladesman” delivers in spades. I’d complain about two particular sequences – one bathed in darkness, the other set behind closed doors – where the fighting is obscured, except that the rest of the flick is so stuffed to the gills with action that I didn’t even mind. Donnie Yen is listed as Action Choreographer and the fights here bear his imprint all over them. Impossibly wide camera angles cover every inch of the action, no matter how constrained the environment becomes. A scene late in the film features Donnie literally dodging arrows as they’re fired and recalls the World War I battle that opened “Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen.” But the real highlight here is the fight between Donnie and Andy On (“Black Mask 2: City of Masks,” “King of Triads“). Their showdown is destined to go down as one of the finest bouts of either man’s career.
When it comes to “The Lost Bladesman,” it’s likely that the presence of Donnie Yen and the promise of spear-slicing action are what will get most people to park themselves in front of the TV. However, I’d wager that Jiang Wen’s superb acting and Felix Chong and Alan Mak’s multi-colored cinematography will prove equally as memorable for viewers by the time the credits have rolled. Donnie Yen has been enjoying a career renaissance as of late, there’s no doubt about that, but “The Lost Bladesman” stands out as one of his finer efforts. Even if you think you’ve seen every Chinese historical epic under the sun, Donnie’s unrivaled flair for action direction ensures that “The Lost Bladesman” has plenty of impact.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 8/10