The Lost Bladesman Review: Donnie Yen stars as Guan Yu in the novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”

An epic, historical, action film loosely based on the story of Chinese folk hero. Guan Yu in the novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”. Written and directed by Alan Mak and Felix Chong of “Infernal Affairs” fame. The film stars Donnie Yen as Guan Yu, with Yen also serving as the film’s action director.

Donnie Yen (Chung Tu Don) stars as “Guan Yunchang/Guan Yu”. A revered Chinese historical figure. Guan Yu was a general serving under the warlord Liu Bei in the late Eastern Han dynasty. He played a significant role in the civil war that led to the collapse of the dynasty and the establishment of the state of Shu Han, founded by Liu Bei, during the Three Kingdoms period.

As one of the best known Chinese historical figures. Guan’s true life stories have largely given way to fictionalised ones. Most of which are found in Luo Guanzhong’s historical novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”. Guan Yu was deified as early as the Sui dynasty and is still worshipped by many Chinese people today. He is a figure in Chinese folk religion, popular Confucianism, Taoism, and Chinese Buddhism, and small shrines to Guan are almost ubiquitous in traditional Chinese shops and restaurants. He is often reverently called Guan Gong (Lord Guan) and Guan Di (Emperor Guan).

Jiang Wen, a noted Chinese dramatic actor, plays “Cao Cao”. A real-life historical character, Cao Cao was a warlord and the penultimate Chancellor of the Eastern Han dynasty. One of the central figures of the Three Kingdoms period. He laid the foundations for what was to become the state of Cao Wei and was posthumously honoured as “Emperor Wu of Wei”. Often portrayed as a cruel and merciless tyrant, in subsequent literature Cao Cao has also been praised as a brilliant ruler and military genius who treated his subordinates like his family. He was also skilled in poetry and martial arts and wrote many war journals.

Hailed as “China’s Queen of Television”, Betty Sun Li plays “Qilan”, Liu Bei’s concubine and subject of Guan Yu’s affection. Martial arts fans will know her as the blind girl “Moon” from the Jet Li film, “Fearless“.

Alex Fong is “Liu Bei”, a warlord and Guan Yu’s sworn brother. Historically Liu Bei was a warlord in the late Eastern Han dynasty who founded the state of Shu Han in the Three Kingdoms (phim tam quoc chi) period and became it’s first ruler. He fought at the famous Battle of Red Cliffs and was widely considered a benevolent and humane leader.

In supporting roles, star of “Mr. Vampire” and “Fist of Legend“, Chin Siu-ho has a brief cameo as “Yan Liang”, one of Yuan Shao’s generals. Action star Andy On (“New Police Story”, “Invisible Target“, “Fatal Contact“, “True Legend”, “Special ID“, “Zombie Fight Club“) plays “Kong Xiu”, a general defending Dongling Pass. Calvin Li who played “Wisdom” in “Reign of Assassins”, here plays an archer tasked with stopping Guan Yu. Popular Chinese actor and star of the award-winning “Black Coal, Thin Ice” Wang Xuebing is “Wang Zhi”, so the official in charge of Xingyang.

The action in The Lost Bladesman (Quan Cong Vo Thanh) commences not with martial arts. But with an appropriately epic reconstruction of the Battle of Baima. Flaming arrows fly overhead, the horse-mounted cavalry charge forward with their lances. And all are surrounded by thousands of soldiers fighting with swords, spears and hand-to-hand. Chinese movie makers have become extremely adept at these types of sequences. You can almost smell the burning flames and the sound effects and filming techniques make it seem as though the arrows are flying out of the screen. The huge loss of life in ancient battles is not shied away from, but it is not gratuitous either. So Donnie Yen makes a very brief appearance to confront Chin Siu-ho. But there is little to report in the action department from him.

At the Dongling Pass, there are hundreds of men practicing their martial arts forms in rows, just like the classic tennis court scenes from “Enter the Dragon”. When Donnie arrives, he is surrounded by dozens of soldiers. Initially he uses his brute strength to fling them from his path, before grabbing Guan Yu’s famed “Guandao” weapon.

Andy On leaps in with his spear to duel Donnie, with the pair using a mix of wushu skills, and real weapons applications. So the fight progresses to a narrow-walled street, forcing the two gladiators to adapt their weapons technique as they strike the brickwork. Their timing is impeccable as Andy On ducks just centimetres under Donnie’s swinging blade. With Donnie himself slipping from side-to-side to avoid getting a spear in his eye. The camera whizzes around in overhead and tracking shots, but always gives a clear view of the action.

Author: Duong VR

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