The latest from Donnie Yen (stunt choreographer and actor from Blade II) is a stunningly realised martial arts action film that has little to offer besides awesome action and pretty visuals.
I have to be completely honest here. I understood nothing in this film. Nothing at all. I was completely adrift in an ocean of “what the hell’s going on?” with no narrative buoy on which to cling, and I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the opening title card, which at least explained the setting, but immediately afterwards we were thrown into an action scene that simply confused me. Once the film’s title came up, I thought it would perhaps jump backwards in time to set the scene, but unfortunately this wasn’t the case. The film continues from this point, with very little exposition.
In fact the entire film felt like the second half of a story. I’m not sure whether this is because Luo Guanzhong’s historical novel, ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’ is well known in China or what, but the film seemed to assume a certain amount of knowledge. If you’re curious to know of the plot, the IMDb page explains that “A tyrant forces the greatest warrior in the land to battle his greatest friend by holding the woman they both love hostage,” though I didn’t really see this in the film. All I knew is that Guan Yu (Yen), a kick-arse warrior with a huge halberd thingy, keeps complaining about the futility of war and how he doesn’t want to kill anymore… and then he goes off to kill some more people. There’s a love story in there somewhere too, but it’s so damn forbidden that our two lovers never get to, you know, express their love. Or even mention it in passing.
The action is great. Really, really good. This could be because during these sequences, at least I knew what was going on – someone wanted to kill Guan Yu and he had to fight back, even though he didn’t want to. This is about as clear as The Lost Bladesman got for me.
My partner did understand more of this film than I, though the film’s conclusion was completely lost on her. I’m not sure why I struggled so much with this one, and I can’t actually remember ever being as confounded as this in the cinema. For crying out loud, I managed to keep up with the likes of Primer, so why can’t I manage something like this?
So, in conclusion, I’m going to give potential viewers the benefit of the doubt: you’ll quite possibly understand more of this than I. The Lost Bladesman features some beautiful cinematography and impressive action. From my point of view, however, I simply cannot class this film as a great one, since it failed to get the narrative (and indeed, the point of the narrative) across to the viewer.Rating: