Review: THE LOST BLADESMAN 關雲長 (2011) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Review: THE LOST BLADESMAN 關雲長 (2011)

Review: THE LOST BLADESMAN 關雲長 (2011)

Adapted from the story of "Guan Yu crossing five passes and slaying six generals", the movie begins as the tyrannical Cao Cao (Jiang Wen) is determined to conquer all China in the name of Han dynasty. During an ongoing war against Yuan Shao, Cao Cao enlists General Guan (Donnie Yen) to help him launch an attack against the enemy troops and subsequently killing the rival General Yan Liang (Chin Siu-Ho) in the process. Thanks to Guan's victory, Cao Cao awarded him an honorary title of "Marquis of Hanshou" and hoping that he will continue to serve him as his close ally. Unfortunately, Guan remains faithful to his sworn brother Liu Bei (Alex Fong), who is actually Cao Cao's intended enemy as well. So out of respect, Cao Cao allows Guan to leave home peacefully, even though his fellow advisors are feeling uncomfortable with his decision. As a result, his advisors take their opportunity to inform every general to apprehend and kill Guan at all cost. In the meantime, Guan is fulfilling his duty to escort Liu Bei's concubine, Qilan (Sun Li) back home safely. And to make things complicated, Guan has been secretly in love with her but afraid to express his feeling because he doesn't want to betray his loyalty against Liu Bei. Soon their long journey becomes increasingly dangerous as Guan has to find a way to overcome a few generals, hence the "crossing five passes and slaying six generals" in the process before able to reunite with Liu Bei.

REVIEW: Another Donnie Yen movie, and another high-profile project that has huge anticipation written all over the place. This time, it involves much sought-after directing duo, Felix Chong and Alan Mak (best known for screenwriting INFERNAL AFFAIRS trilogy and CONFESSION OF PAIN) as well as directing the 2008's police surveillance drama, OVERHEARD. Their last directing effort in the 2008's LADY COP & PAPA CROOK is a huge disappointment, but their latest effort here is really something to look forward to -- costumed martial-art drama centres on the legendary story of Guan Yu which is taken from Luo Guanzhong's popular classic novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. However, anyone who is expecting RED CLIFF-like sensational storytelling and epic grandeur will be sorely disappointed by the more bumpy approach Felix Chong and Alan Mak given here in THE LOST BLADESMAN.

Despite the intriguing story, it's a shame that Felix Chong and Alan Mak's adapted screenplay is poorly-executed. Those who never read the classic novel before will have a tough time trying to figure out the whole story here. Thanks to their heavy-handed narration, the storytelling process is very confusing with a plethora of characters and events which are too reliable on verbal context than visual interpretation. The romance factor, which centres on the forbidden love between Guan and Qilan is more of a burden than a necessity that could have been eliminated out of the story altogether. Not only that, dialogues are awfully stilted and the characters are surprisingly average at best.

Speaking of characters, Donnie Yen has the heroic presence to portray the great Guan Yu as a fearsome warrior but he only excels the best when comes to technical skill. His acting performance remains as wooden as ever, and he's practically a bore when requires dramatising a lot. Jiang Wen is suitably cunning as the way he looks and telling gestures for his Cao Cao character, although he's not nearly as imposing as Zheng Fengyi's superb performance of the similar role in RED CLIFF. As for Sun Li, her character is more of a thankless role.

Whereas the story and the characters fail to elevate the material into expectation, the action remains watchable enough to sustain the movie from a total disappointment. Except that the action isn't as consistent as one might expect from Donnie Yen, who also serves here as the action director. The movie's finest sequence is the one-on-one alleyway spear battle against Guan Yu and General Kong Xiu (Andy On), which also marks one of Yen's most exhilarating martial art choreography ever staged. Unfortunately, the rest of the action set pieces pale in comparison. There're few hiccups as well, notably in a fight-to-the-death scene against a troop in the dimly-lit setting that is too difficult to see what is going on and somewhat an awkward scene involving a bloody massacre that happens off-screen behind the closed doors. (Seriously, that kind of artistic approach would have worked better for somewhere else). As for the ending, don't expect any save-the-best-for-the-last action sequence that normally associated with Donnie Yen's movie. Rather, it's strangely anticlimactic that doesn't offer any satisfying payoff after so much anticipation has built up earlier.

Technical credits are top-notch, with Bill Lui's impressive production design and Henry Lai's stirring music score. Chan Chi-Ying's cinematography is fluid and exciting, especially during the action sequence while the sound effects -- whether the whooshing of the firing arrow or the swinging of the spear -- are greatly emphasised.

Too bad THE LOST BLADESMAN could have been a better movie, but all we have here instead is a half-realised effort. Count this as a second consecutive disappointment in the row for Donnie Yen after his last year's LEGEND OF THE FIST: THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN.

Alan Mak and Felix Chong's potentially ambitious period drama about the legendary Guan Yu is a half-baked effort plagued with heavy-handed storyline and inconsistent action scenes.

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