Contributed By Raymond Tan
The Lost Bladesman is based on Luo Guanzhong’s historical novel The Romance Of The Three Kingdoms, one of China’s greatest literary works. The film focuses on themes of honor and integrity through the story of Guan Yu, portrayed with panache by Donnie Yen (of Ip Man fame).
Set during the Eastern Han Dynasty, the story opens with Prime Minister Cao Cao (Jiang Wen) plotting to dispose of his political enemies and destroy rival warlord Liu Bei’s (Alex Fong) army. He then takes Liu’s two wives, future concubine and other members of his family hostage, as well as Liu’s sworn brother, Guan Yu (Yen). Cao greatly admires Guan and wishes to retain him, but Guan’s loyalty is with Liu. When Cao finds out that Guan was once in love with Liu’s future concubine, Qilan (Betty Sun), he sets a trap to lure Guan into temptation. Guan escapes with Qilan, but to get to Liu, they must cross five passes and fend off many obstacles along the way.
That writers-directors Felix Chong and Alan Mak chose to focus on the story of Guan Yu is a nimble move to present a different vantage point from John Woo’s martial arts/war extravaganza Red Cliff, also based on the same book. Though smaller in scale, this film is not lacking in heart. The visual poetry is stunning; the grace with which Guan fights is symbolic of his honor and integrity, and the set is never outlandish but visually arresting, fluid and coherent. A must-watch, especially for fans of ancient Chinese history.