High-kicking, vibrant visuals and broad story make for a thrilling epic.
It was Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) that opened mainstream cinema’s eyes to the glorious possibilities of Asian historical action extravaganzas. With China’s rich historical background seeped in myths and legend there are endless stories to be told through sprawling epics. The Lost Bladesman is just such a film and, like so many films of its ilk, what it lacks in story line it more than makes up for in aesthetics and action.
At the height of the Han Dynasty China finds itself rife with infighting and civil war. Having been captured by Cao Cao (Jiang), Guan Yu (Yen) becomes a valuable asset in the war torn country. Willing to do anything to bring peace, Guan must escort Qilan (Sun Li), a concubine to Lord Liu Bei (Fong) through five passes and defeat six warlords in the process.
For the most part the plot of Bladesman is almost circumstantial, if anything the back-drop of civil war is too big for a more intimate affair. However, like the stunning Hero (2002) the film unfolds in a series of episodic confrontations that slowly guide you towards a hugely rewarding, and unexpected, climax.
Like the work of Yimou Zang, who gave us such delights as Hero and The House Of Flying Daggers (2004), The Lost Bladesman is seeped in rich colours and vibrant aesthetics. Directors Chong and Mak, who are the teambehind the utterly brilliant Infernal Affairs films, of which Martin Scorseseadapted The Departed (2006) from, find increasingly inventive ways to immerse us in the historical, boarding on mythological, world of ancient China. The colour pallet is in a continual state of flux and each new realm Guan enters presents a very different theme to the last one.
Where the film really comes to life though is in the fight sequences. Donnie Yen, very much the martial artist du jour, brings the fast fists of a Jackie Chan, the graceful moves of a Jet Li and the outright magnetism of a Bruce Lee. Here he also acts as action director as well as leading man and the pay-off is hugely enjoyable. The combat is always inventive with various locations being utilised to wonderful effect. Unlike much of Hollywood’s current output there is no shaky hand held camera cheating you out of actually seeing the impacts. Instead we are treated to balletic skirmishes where every kick, punch and slash is both seen and felt.
Guan Yu is represented throughout China as an iconic figure, The Lost Bladesman is unlikely to gain him such a following on foreign shores but it is still a thoroughly exhilarating action adventure. The plot might be thin but the characters, look and energy of the film is rich. Thanks to Yen’s screen presence and choreography this Bladesman is a pleasure to watch swing into action.