The Lost Bladesman (Guan yun chang) is a historically based martial arts film that is adapted from the legendary novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, which follows the story of Guan Yu (Donnie Yen) and his crossing of five passes and slaying of six generals. It’s AD 200 (the late Eastern Han Dynasty) and ruthless Prime Minister Cao Cao (Wen Jiang) is in the process of eliminating his political opponents. He soon focuses his attention on rival warlords Liu Bei (Alex Fong) and Yuan Shao. In an effort to avoid fighting a two front war, Cao launches an attack on Bei first, causing the warlord to flee north and join Shao. Meanwhile the enemy captures his family and Bei’s sworn brother Guan Yu is also forced to surrender, in an effort to uphold his oath of brotherhood and preserve his honour. Knowing of Yu’s reputation as a great warrior, Cao hopes that he will continue to serve him. However, learning of Bei’s new whereabouts, Yu plans on returning the warlord’s fiancé, Qi Lan (Betty Sun), to him. Qi Lan reproaches Yu for serving Cao and the warrior, who also loves her, must embark on a long, perilous journey through the passes to reunite her with Bei…
The Lost Bladesman is a martial arts extravaganza that relies almost solely on its action sequences. Actor Donnie Yen – someone I was not familiar with before, but have come to understand is an aficionado of this type of historical martial arts fare – also choreographed the action and it is these scenes alone that are really only worth watching. Despite being based on a novel, the film lacks direction and takes an awfully long time to find its karate-kicking feet. When this is achieved, viewers realise that all they are going to get is action spectacle. However, this cannot be completely balked, as The Lost Bladesman features an array of exciting action sequences that are potentially as impressive as other classics of the martial arts genre. It’s when the tone of the film shifts to the romantic subplot between Yu and Qi Lan it runs into trouble. These sequences fail to convince through the uncomfortable performances from lead Donnie Yen and actress Betty Sun. In fact, when it comes to performances The Lost Bladesman is a very poor effort. Yen, who is wooden and only bearable to watch when fighting, spends much of his time looking rather subdued. This can be forgiven however, as he is forced to play a one-dimensional cardboard cut out of a character. The supporting cast are generally little better, but Jiang Wen saves the film from total catastrophe! In a scene-stealing performance he is the film’s only truly interesting character. A combination of malice and charisma, Wen is note-perfect in his portrayal of the power-hungry Cao.
Quality wise, The Lost Bladesman looks fantastic on its Blu-ray release, with bold colours and immense attention to detail giving the film a high production value. Yen’s action sequences are impressive, as well as the location shooting and the vast varieties of period details, all of which look excellent on screen. Audio is equally impressive, with a deeply expressive and extremely full sound, which is particularly notable during the action sequences. Dialogue is always clear and audible (which, of course, will only be of real benefit to those fluent in Chinese!). For those that, like me, are reliant upon the subtitles, these are generally ok but occasionally blur into the background when this is particularly light. On screen text fails to be translated here, but this doesn’t generally make the film any harder to follow.
Only a rather paltry smattering of bonus features is offered; the original trailer and a Making of documentary in the guise of four small featurettes. Clocking in at 16 minutes, the making of will not exactly set viewer’s worlds alight with its in depth look at the film. A series of behind the scenes clips and interviews with both cast and crew are interesting however, but don’t expect to come away feeling enlightened much.
Overall, The Lost Bladesman is likely to lose audiences through its poor narrative and weak screenplay. However, for lovers of martial arts action sequences, you can’t go wrong here. With epic battles and stunts that will make your eyes stand out on sticks, the action is the film’s only saving grace.
The Lost Bladesman is released today on both Blu-ray and DVD.