Guandao is the Gibson Les Paul of spears. It is named after the heroic “Three
Kingdoms” General Guan Yu, even though he likely predated the weapon’s earliest
documented existence by several centuries. It hardly matters. At this point,
most of the stories surrounding the virtuous warrior are largely fiction, but
they all boil down to him being the good guy fighting against the despised Cao
Cao. However, Alan Mok & Felix Chong (best known for the Infernal Affairs and Overheard franchises) give the legend a
twist in The Lost Bladesman (trailer here), which releases
today on DVD, from Weinstein and Anchor Bay.
Yu (Yunchang) was faithful to Shu Han warlord Liu Bei, arguably to a fault.
Recognizing the loyalty and heroism Guan inspired, Cao Cao tried compromise his
integrity, but he found he couldn’t corrupt a righteous man. Granted, Guan was
willing to make common cause with his nemesis, under narrowly defined
conditions, for the sake of the public good. Of course, he never did so at the
expense of his higher principles.
a devious schemer like Cao Cao was not willing to give up without a fight.
Zeroing in on Guan’s Achille’s heel, the Imperial Chancellor arranged for him
to escort Qi Lan, Liu’s intended consort and the love of Guan’s life, back to
the Shu Kingdom, forcing them to run a gauntlet of Imperial forces and
hopefully weakening them to amorous temptation.
Considering Donnie Yen will soon be even more world famous a Chirrut Ȋmwe in Rogue One: a Star Wars Story, it makes
perfect sense a solid, representative 2011 Yen film would finally get a
somewhat belated release. Bladesman features
impressive work from Yen as both lead actor and action director. His close
quarters spear battle with Andy On’s Gen. Kong Xiu is definitely worth multiple
viewings. However, the real attraction is watching fellow Rogue One-co-star Wen Jiang swagger and conspire as Cao Cao. Yet,
he also displays such dry wit and sly subtlety, he totally challenges and
subverts preconceptions of the notorious figure. It is impossible to reduce his
version of Cao Cao to an easy strawman caricature, yet he always looks like he
is having a jolly good time.
Regardless, Yen is still the star and he
develops some agonizingly tragic romantic chemistry with Betty Sun Li’s Qi Lan.
Bladesman is all about denial and
yearning rather than consummation, which makes it quite a refreshing change of
pace. Although Mak & Chong are more at home in a cops-and-gangsters milieu,
they have crafted a classy looking period drama. It boasts a terrific cast, but
it is also fascinating the watch Mak & Chong present a complex and
humanized portrait of Cao Cao, ranking somewhere between the sympathetic Chow
Yun-fat in The Assassins and the
scenery-chewingly villainous Zhang Fengyi in Red Cliff. Highly recommended for martial arts connoisseurs and
fans of the starry cast, The Lost
Bladesman is now available on DVD, from the Weinstein Company and Anchor
Labels: Andy On, Cao Cao, Donnie Yen, DVD, Martial arts cinema, Sun Li, Wen Jiang