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The Lost Bladesman - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Guan Yunchang

China 2011


Alan Mak
Felix Chong

Donnie Yen
Jiang Wen
Betty Sun Li
Shao Bing
Wang Bo-Chieh
Alex Fong
Chen Hong
Andy On
Dong Yong
Chin Siu-Ho
Wang Xuebing
Nie Yuan

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The Lost Bladesman

Story: China is divided into several kingdoms and a war is raging. General Cao Cao (Jiang Wen) has indirectly seized the emperor's power with his consent and wants to unify the country. During one of his campaigns he takes the highly regarded warrior Guan Yunchang (Donnie Yen) prisoner. Cao Cao asks Guan to eliminate an opposing general for him so that a battle can be ended without further bloodshed. Since Guan is a righteous man he agrees. After having won the battle Cao Cao is keen to win over Guan for his cause. But Guan is a loyal warrior, who wants to return to his general, Liu Bei. Much to his regret Cao Cao lets him leave, as well as Qilan (Betty Sun) who is the soon-to-be-wife of Liu Bei, although Guan himself has feelings for her. But Guan would never think of taking away the wife of his general and so he heads towards Liu's camp with her. On the way he meets strong resistance though. Apparently, Cao Cao's promise doesn't seem to carry much weight as his men want to kill him.

Review: The period of the Three Kingdoms always serves as a great source for a Chinese period movie. With Donnie Yen in the lead there also should be enough going concerning the martial arts aspect and Jiang Wen should be able to deliver good acting. The story itself turns out to be quite ambitious and at least on paper looks like the foundation for complex intrigues and emotional clashes. But the directing duo Alan Mak and Felix Chong doesn't know how to bring the events to screen in a fittingly gripping manner. Furthermore, the character drawings prove to be surprisingly shallow. Even the action doesn't deliver spot on at times. So there isn't much left in the end that could redeem "The Lost Bladesman". Another disappointment by Mak/Chong.

The Lost Bladesman - Film Screenshot 11

The biggest flaw of the story is that Guan Yunchang, or later Guan Yu, is meant to be in the center of events. Yet he is a righteous hero, who might dirty his hands if it can't be helped, but who always carries the well-being of the people in his heart. Accordingly he doesn't undergo any character development and remains wooden as a tree. It also doesn't help that Donnie Yen is embodying this hero. Yen isn't an outstanding actor, but at least in "Ip Man" and "Wu Xia" he could show that he is in fact capable of giving even subtle characters some color. That isn't the case here. Yen almost bores with his portrayal and in numerous scenes is completely outshined by Jiang Wen.

The Lost Bladesman - Film Screenshot 12

Which brings us to the most vexing point. Guan Yunchang is of no relevance for the events that take place in the country. He is the kind of hero that you can show to others, but he hasn't any real power and he surely wouldn't be that hard to replace. Because of this the story is unintentionally - and that's exactly the problem - shifting to Cao Cao. He is the one making the important decisions that shape the future of the country. He may stop at nothing when it serves his purpose and at times he can be distressingly ruthless, but it is beyond question that he is a man of his word and actually just wants to bring peace to the country. Jiang Wen ("Let the Bullets Fly") delivers such a great performance of the general that it almost seems out of place. His charisma often occupies the whole screen.

That Cao Cao inevitably is an important figure in the historical events of 3rd century China has already become apparent in "The Assassins" and "Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon". But here he was just supposed to be the counterpart to Guan Yu - and that simply isn't the case. Moreover, the movie is enriched by characters that are instantly forgotten despite them actually being important for the story, or at least they could have been. What's also bothering is the love story between Guan Yu and Qilan, played by Betty Sun ("Fearless"). Here it also becomes apparent that the events on screen have been captured without any emotion whatsoever and that consequently we aren't affected by them. It wouldn't even cause any true sorrow if Guan Yunchang just had made his last exit midway in the movie.

The Lost Bladesman - Film Screenshot 13

Maybe the fight scenes can be more convincing? Well, the first real fight kicks in after 45 minutes. That's simply too late. Apart from that the fights aren't really spectacular. Maybe intentionally so, in order to keep within the realistic framework of the film, but choreographer and martial arts expert Donnie Yen still lacks some of his usual vitality. However, the reason for "The Lost Bladesman" not being able to work out is because of directors Alan Mak and Felix Chong ("Overheard 2", "Infernal Affairs"), who often enough have to struggle with the problem that their movies look like arbitrary linked scenes. The story itself is pretty well done in fact and at times it is also full of difficult moral decisions to be made. But the transfer to the big screen certainly failed.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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