it is not enough to simply live, one must live well...
it is the latter days of the han dynasty. the warring states period. cao cao (jiang wen) is the head of emperor xian's (wang bo-chieh) court; essentially he is wielding power as the young emperor enjoys his protection. amongst other enemy generals in his capture, cao cao has guan yu (donnie yen); a man with no small reputation, who is as fierce a fighter as he is loyal to his sworn brother liu bei (alex fong).now, liu bei is an enemy of cao cao but, such is personality of guan yu, he agrees to fight for cao cao, in order to bring to an end, the bloody fighting that is going on around him, thanks to an attack from the warlord dong cheng (?).
and so begins cao cao's pursuit of guan yu, whom he would love to have as a loyal tool at his disposal. however, guan yu is a man of principle, who doesn't trust the political manoeuvrings of cao cao and just wants to get back to the side of liu bei, taking qi lan (betty sun), liu bei's latest wife, with him. cao cao and his generals are not going to make this an easy task...
so, having not read any promotion for this, but just having seen the posters as i arrived in hong kong a couple of weeks back, i thought that jiang wen and donnie yen in a bit of a historical epic would be a good watch, especially for the acting talents of the former and the martial arts talents of the latter. i was right. although, it wasn't until about halfway through the film that i suddenly realised 'oh, it's that general guan'. i can be quite slow sometimes...
so, yes, it's tale of guan yu crossing five passes, from luo guanzhong's novel 'romance of the three kingdoms' and, from what i read, some people seem to be giving poor donnie a hard time about his portrayal of general guan. well, apart from a little too much beard stroking and the fact that he doesn't really look like any depiction of guan yu that i'm familiar with, i thought he did a pretty good job. donnie has never been someone with a great range of acting ability and, even though he has always had physical presence and undeniable ability when it comes to screen fighting, he has never simply relied on this and he really does seem to have made an effort to better his acting over the years and this probably marks another step up the ladder for him. this is a good thing, especially as he's opposite jiang wen for a lot of the film, who most people would agree is probably one of the best talents working in china today. it should go without saying that jiang wen is brilliant as cao cao, which is a very good role for someone of his talents.
the rest of the cast should be complimented too, but i shall single out wang zuebing for bringing an extra little something to the small role of wang zhi. alex man and felix chong do well to take what is a rather large story and work it into a well paced couple of hours, where the drama and scale of the world the story is taking place in, never overshadows the drama of the characters and the flow from battles and confrontations, to some quite lengthy scenes of one to one dialogue is handled very well.
what also helps is that the film is almost always quite beautiful to look at, with a really nice look and feel to the cinematography, lighting, production and costume design. oh, and there's also some action... in fact, there's rather a lot of action... and, it's rather bloody good.
from a large scale battle, one on ones, donnie taking on all comers, a stunning battle with andy on, a fight with very low lighting, which still manages to come across well and more; there's some very watchable, very well executed going on and, even if he doesn't look like general guan, donnies levels of ass-kickery are pretty sodding brilliant.
i really enjoyed this.
out at the pictures in hong kong, i'm sure it'll only be a month or two before the dvd is available.