An adaptation of Luo Guanzhong’s novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms – which has already inspired a number of cinematic offerings including John Woo’s Red Cliff (2008) – Alan Mak and Felix Chong’s The Lost Bladesman (2011) is a perfectly competent martial arts piece that’s made big waves at the Chinese box office.
Despite the fact that The Lost Bladesman is yet another high stakes period piece in which the protagonist is practically a God in the art of killing people beautifully, Mak and Chong’s (the talented duo behind the Infernal Affairs trilogy) latest effort surpasses all initial expectations. The violence, while bountiful, is always fighting to aid the progression of its emotionally charged narrative, as opposed to the abundance of other oriental outings we’ve all at some point experienced in which story is build around a string of fight sequences.
Additionally, the action, while sumptuous to behold, never aims to achieve an artistic prowess akin to the works of Yimou Zhang, the director to have most arguably brought these kinds of films to our screens with Hero (2002) and House of Flying Daggers (2004). Instead of sleek slow-motion adorned with delectable microscopic levels of detail, Mak and Chong opt for a simpler approach, not due to lack of ability no doubt, but due to an understanding that cinema tastes have moved on. Today, speed and noise reign more supreme than ever, and wielding what is essentially a large stick with a massive sword on the end, our hero skips on neither.
Our hero being Guan Yun Chang, a man separated from his people and the sworn brother of warlord Liu Bei, is taken prisoner and forced into temporarily aligning himself with his enemy, Cao Cao. Due to Chang’s exceptional ability as a warrior, Cao Cao grants him the opportunity to escort Bei’s concubine back to her home. A journey paved with notable danger ensues.
While it could be argued that the sheer number of movies from this genre to have emerged from the East over the years may initially appear a somewhat unrewarding venture, it would be beneficial to dispel that kind of attitude (although hopefully it’s not one you hold) as Hollywood really is no different. We may have seen a great many furious fist fights and displays of immense weaponry skill from the Chinese film industry, but just how many more robot smashing, superhero, explosions laden films are going to continue to fill the screens of our multiplexes? The answer is hundreds. Probably thousands. Which is fine, audiences like Transformers 3 (2011) – likely due to their not knowing better, or fear of trying things with fewer crashes and loud noises in them – but they like them.
The point is, while The Lost Bladesman is certainly not the best of its kind, it has been crafted with notable levels of compassion and respect for both its content and its audience. If only the blockbuster producers could be so bold. Or at least find us a few more Christopher Nolans.