The Lost Bladesman (2011)

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Released 26-Aug-2011

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Martial Arts Featurette-Making Of
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-x 3 for other films
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2011
Running Time 105:08
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (60:53) Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Felix Chong
Alan Mak
Studio
Distributor
Icon Entertainment Starring Donnie Yen
Jiang Wen
Sun Li
Li Zonghan
Chin Siu-hou
Andy On
Case ?
RPI $39.95 Music Henry Lai


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Chinese Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Chinese Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     In Chinese history the period of the Three Kingdoms at the end of the Han dynasty (around 200 AD) is replete with myth and legend, with great heroes, daring deeds and duplicitous rulers. Through oral tradition, Luo Guanzhong's Romance of the Three Kingdoms and recent film treatments, such as John Woo’s epic Red Cliff (2008) or the Andy Lau vehicle Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon (2008), the heroes and their deeds are as well known in China as Homer’s Greek and Trojan heroes are in the West. The Lost Bladesman is set in this same period and concentrates upon the legendary General Guan Yunchang, here played by martial arts superstar Donnie Yen.

     Prime Minister Cao Cao (Jiang Wen) dominates the youthful Han Emperor (Wang Bo-chieh). As the film starts he has defeated one of his rivals, Liu Bei, and captured his family including Liu’s concubine to be Qilan (Sun Li) and his fabled warrior general Guan Yunchang. Cao uses all his wiles and inducements to persuade Guan to switch sides, but Guan is steadfastly loyal to Liu Bei and refuses to besmirch his honour by abandoning his allegiance. Following his defeat, Liu Bei has joined forces with the third of the rivals, Yuan Shao. Threatened by this alliance and unable to persuade Guan to fight for him, Cao Cao decides on a plan to undermine the alliance and to resolve his problem with Guan. He knows Guan is secretly in love with Qilan, so Cao sets Qilan free and, guarded by Guan, she commences on her journey to Liu Bei. The dangers Guan and Qilan face on their travels will not be limited to the physical attacks of Guan’s enemies, as loyalty, friendship and honour become sorely tested.

     Donnie Yen must be one of the most hardworking stars around, appearing in 3 or 4 films a year over the past few years. For example, in 2010 alone he starred in 14 Blades , Ip Man 2 and Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, not a bad portfolio. These are not quiet dramas, with little physical activity, but action films requiring Yen to perform numerous stunts and fights; as he is generally his own action choreographer as well his workload is prodigious. Yen is also the action director of The Lost Bladesman and the challenge must have been to come up with fight sequences that are different and exciting. The good news is that he has mostly succeeded. While there is only one large set piece battle (at the beginning), The Lost Bladesman is jam-packed with Donnie strutting his stuff. There are fights in the open, inside a house, in the woods in mist and Yen takes on both individual fighters and massed opponents. Guan Yunchang’s weapon of choice was the guan dao, a long handled pike with a crescent shaped blade on the end, and Yen shows off his skills with this weapon, including in one especially memorable fight in an enclosed alley way, where long handled weapons can become a liability!

     As an actor, Yen has not the greatest range, so his role in The Lost Bladesman suits him as his Guan Yunchang is moral, stoic, uncompromising, humourless and pretty dull when he is not dispatching enemies; his scenes with Sun Li, supposedly the love of his life, are unconvincing to say the least. Instead, it is Jiang Wen who steals the non-action scenes. His Cao Cao is not an evil man, but a man seeking peace by bloody means. He is charismatic, devious and totally believable as a man who seems to speak reason and common sense while he manipulates all around him, including Guan whom he out manoeuvres at every stage. The difference between Cao and Guan is frequently illustrated; where for Guan honour is everything, Cao is more pragmatic; Cao observes that he will kneel to anyone if it will bring peace closer while he tells Guan “you can take the role of the hero, I’ll play the lesser man”. This sums up their different characters: Guan is the tiger general, unyielding and active, Cao the intellectual and man of reason, although he is clearly not the lamb he pretends to be.

     Like all good action films, The Lost Bladesman is more than just non-stop fighting; it also raises moral questions: can the deaths of many thousands of people be justified if that brings peace to the land and thus saves the lives of millions? The film backs this up through scenes of peace and plenty. There are happy farmers in the lands that Cao Cao has pacified, while some warriors who had previously fought with Guan and opposed Cao now only want to live in peace. In contrast, while Guan early in the film is shown as a hero, worshipped by the poor, later in the film his uncompromising stance and insistence on opposing Cao alienates other villagers. What price the hero?

     The Lost Bladesman is a superior entrant into the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. The film looks and sounds good, the action scenes are energetic, diverse and well staged by Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen is excellent as the devious Prime Minister Cao Cao. The Lost Bladesman also includes reflections upon friendship, honour and loyalty and whether killing can be justified if it brings peace.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     The Lost Bladesman is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, the original theatrical ratio, and is 16x9 enhanced.

     The print is fine, as sharp and detailed as one should expect from a modern film. Scenes where characters walk in white robes in front of a white light source, a combination that can create difficulties, come off nicely. Shadow detail and blacks are fine although the film has been colour manipulated in post production. The flash back sequences are the most obvious example, with most colour leached out of the print, but most scenes have been enhanced in some way. The wheat fields are impossibly golden, for example, while many uniforms look quite dull. Skin tones are also affected, with Donnie Yen having an impossibly deep tan. I noted no film or film to video artefacts.

     The subtitles, in American English, are the weakest part of the DVD presentation. They are in a smallish white font that frequently flashes by too quickly to read completely. As well, when the subtitles appear in a light coloured scene they are almost impossible to read. In a film where Western audiences, unfamiliar with the legends or the characters, need to know what is being said this is a major annoyance that could easily have been corrected.

     The layer change at 60:53 resulted in a slight pause but it was well placed in a scene change so was not disruptive.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     Audio is a choice between Chinese Dolby Digital 5.1 at 448 Kbps and Chinese Dolby Digital 2.0, surround encoded, at 224 Kbps. Both are good, aggressive tracks; the main difference is that the 2.0 sounds sharper and recorded at a slightly higher level, while the 5.1 has a deeper, more balanced feel.

     Dialogue was clean and centred, swords clanged robustly while all the surrounds were employed to give an enveloping experience. Arrows, hooves, fire effects, voices and music were constantly in the surrounds and there were panning effects for voices and arrows. The sub woofer was very aggressive, sometimes overly so, but did manage to provide rousing support to the music and effects.

     Lip synchronisation was off on occasion but was not too distracting.

     The score by Henry Lai is varied, and epic, using a combination of Asian and Western instruments. It well suited the scale and intent of the visuals.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     The DVD starts, yet again with an Icon title, with forced trailers that must individually be skipped. Included are Mulan (2:08), Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon (2:26) and 14 Blades (2:38). They are all good, and I enjoyed them the first time, but in this digital age isn’t it time we went beyond the format of VHS tapes?

Making of (16:19)

     In fact this is four different EPK sections running one after the other. They feature interview snippets, but none of the people are identified by subtitle (only by Chinese characters) so I only know who some are, such as Donnie Yen (who was obviously interviewed different times as his clothes chance) and Sun Li. There is, however, some interesting behind the s interest footage included.

Theatrical Trailer (1:25)

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     There is not currently a Region 1 US edition of the film. In Asia there are Region 3 releases from Hong Kong and Taiwan, plus a Region 0 Chinese release. Extras but not on our Region 4 release seem only minor, and I cannot tell if they have English subtitles. Sales sites also indicate the two Region 3 releases are in an incorrect aspect ratio of 1.78:1, but I cannot confirm this. There is a Region 2 UK release, but I cannot find details of its specifications, or extras. There seems no reason to go beyond the Region 4 release.

Summary

     In The Lost Bladesman, the action scenes are energetic, diverse and well staged, Donnie Yen is an athletic action hero and Jiang Wen excellent as the devious Cao Cao. The film also includes reflections upon friendship, honour and loyalty and whether killing can be justified if it brings peace, which elevates The Lost Bladesman above the normal run of action pictures.

     The video is good (except for the subtitles) and the audio aggressive. The extras are not extensive.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Saturday, September 03, 2011
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 42inch Hi-Def LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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