I don’t know about you, but The Romance of Three Kingdoms is for me, the first thing that came to mind if I got tapped in the shoulder by a street magician who asked me to give a proper and timely response on him screaming, “China!” I’m not pretending to know anything about it, but it was definitely in my bucket list. It says on that list, “Spend a considerable time in mainland China and immerse myself with the history of Three Kingdoms.”
“The Last Bladesman” is one of those numerous films that chopped a tale from Three Kingdoms and turn it into a feature length film. Myth or history? Irrelevant. It is actually safe to say that this film expects you to understand some sort of familiarity with the myth/history. I, myself, was a bit lost during the early scenes. Why did he attacks this dude again? But, overall, it shouldn’t be hard to follow even if you couldn’t put a name to that third prominent warlords in the novel besides Cao Cao, and Liu Bei.
Donnie Yen commands the spotlight, and he is Guan Yu. It may not look like it, but in this film, he was sort of Cao Cao’s captive, or guest, or servant. Well, most of the time. Loads and loads of wisdom words, about honor, loyalty and all that beautiful stuffs taken from the special edition of “Best of Humanity: When Love and Peace Collide” thrown in between the conflicts which even if it’s a bit in abundance, fortunately, never threatens to bore. But hey, that’s strictly my opinion. You might have a drastically different idea. Of course, I had braced myself to a sorry sight of our local theaters just to see Donnie Yen’s fight. Everything else is hardly mattered.
Truth be told, when I heard that Donnie Yen was playing as Guan Yu, I had this doubt written all over my face. I mean, I’ve always pictured Guan Yu to be a huge, no nonsense, and not to mention, a fierce warrior. After all, his weapon of choice is that heavy looking Guan Dao that said to be weighed at around 20 kgs. Sure, Donnie Yen was a no nonsense (attributed to his total inability of acting), and fierce. But huge? Hm, I’ll let you be the judge on that. I blamed the media for engraving such image inside my head. Comics, games, paintings, novels, in my experience, all pointed Guan Yu to command such a massive appearance.
My wife has always fascinated on my preference on film. At times, her words, not mine, she thinks that I had a taste as close as to any auteur she has ever known (not that she knows any) but at other times, she was befuddled by my affection to Rocky, or more broadly, by any films that featured any forms of martial arts. Even Van Damme’s “Blood Sport.” Heck, especially Van Damme’s “Blood Sport.” Now, I was exposed to that film when I was still very young, and afterward, I was never the same. From that time, if there’s a film, no matter how crappy it may sounds, features a beautifully (and I have a fairly low standards on this) choreographed martial art fights that pushes the limit of a human’s body, I’m there.
Donnie Yen may not be known because of his acting skills. He was at his best when he was cold, distant, and on a role that requires him to be as silent as permissible. Short terms, in term of acting, Donnie Yen is a terrible actor. But that’s not why I put Donnie Yen as my favorite working Chinese actor. I will gladly pay to merely see Donnie Yen fights. And he did so awesomely in this film. Everything else, is therefore, irrelevant.
As a footnote, of all the characters in The Romance of Three Kingdoms, I’ve always fascinated with Cao Cao. In this film, Cao Cao was portrayed by Jiang Wen, and I think, completely excluding Donnie Yen from the equation, it was definitely, the best cast on this film.