It seems almost a cliche at this point to reference out how many films Donnie Yen is making right now and it’s also hard to avoid the phrase ‘churning out’ too. This observation is so prevalent because of the reasonably high number of films Yen has made in recent years and the amount of physical exertion needed to make the kind of action spectacle that has come to define his career.
His latest, depending on how you look at worldwide distribution, is The Lost Bladesman, a film based on parts of the historical epic ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’. Yen plays Guan Yu, a general, a legendary figure in Chinese history and perhaps most importantly for Yen’s choice to portray him, a practitioner of martial arts. In this latter role, that of a martial artist, Yen unsurprisingly excels with incredible control and precision in all his movements. He truly is an exceptional performer and some moments in Lost Bladesman showcase his extraordinary talents well.
These are not the best that Yen has to offer though and at times in The Lost Bladesman it is hard not to wander off mentally to some of his more iconic performances and the most memorable sequences from those films. Sequences that have also often been important moments within their respective films, scenes that are there to tell the story through action and/or hold emotional weight. Take the scene in Ip Man between Yen’s title character and ten Japanese men, the scene is memorable for the impressive action but it is significant within the film for a number of narrative reasons and carries emotional weight for the character and what his defiance represents within a wider context. This kind of action within the narrative is not evidenced in The Lost Bladesman, which has a few impressively choreographed and performed scenes but they carry no weight whatsoever.
Feeling your mind wander in The Lost Bladesman will probably be a very common occurrence too, with the filmmakers doing little to engage the viewer, with little attention paid to an enthralling plot, character development or interesting dialogue. Also the action, whilst entertaining in places, is not exactly gripping. The script appears to be the most serious issue though with a large amount of the dialogue leaving actors reading out large expositional paragraphs that are increasingly hard to engage with or even digest properly. Add to this a plot that takes a long time to get going, and when it does it then seems to run out of steam before falling back on on-screen text and an epilogue, and it’s hard to care too much about the events depicted.
Outside of his talents as a martial artist Yen also brings little to the film, with common complaints about his wooden acting being entirely justified by what is seen here. The character of Guan is clearly supposed to be stoic and noble but with little depth to the writing or Yen’s performance the character just comes across as flat and uninteresting. The only crack in his character appears when he is drugged, but even then his rigid stoicism wins out; when asked by an imagined version of his sister-in-law, who he clearly desires, “Why must you be so serious?” he replies “Dreaming doesn’t excuse impropriety”. Even when we are transported into the imagination of the central character the results are still dull.
The DVD transfer is adequate although some scenes look a little murky in places and others look over saturated. The inconsistent cinematography and a baffling approach to colour timing make for an unbalanced look to the film though and this could quite possibly explain away the slightly off-kilter transfer. The audio is clear and showcases the reasonably interesting sound design choices well, with a focus on musicality in the fight sound effects being a particularly intriguing addition. The only extras included are a lacklustre making of and a trailer.
The Lost Bladesman is available to buy or rent on DVD and Blu-ray now.