It is 1906 in Hong Kong and democratic activist Chen Xiao-Bai [Tony Leung Ka-Fai] receives word that friend and revolutionary figure Sun Yat-Sen will be visiting Hong Kong to meet with other activist leaders about overthrowing the Qing government. The government responds to this news by sending their assassins to Hong Kong to intercept and kill Sun.
First though they must do away with veteran soldiers living in Hong Kong under the guise of an Opera Theatre troupe. Chen goes to warn them but is taken away and his fate is unknown. Chen's closest friend, Li Yue-Tang, a prominent businessman in the community to take up the mantle and assemble his own rag tag group bodyguards to protect Sun for the hour he spends in the city.
First there is Hung [Li Yuchun] the daughter of Tian [an oh so brief appearance by Simon Yam] the leader of the veteran soldiers, Ah Si [Nicholas Tse] is the Li family rickshaw driver, there is the monstrous street vendor/ex-Shaolin monk Stinky Tofu [Mengke Bateer] and street beggar Master Lau [Leon Lai]. And Donnie Yen rounds off the cast as policeman/gambling addict Chung-Yang, who begins the story as a spy for the Chinese assassins but finds redemption and joins the group to protect Sun. Some of them have motive. Some of them join out of loyalty to Mr. Li and don't even know who or what they are protecting.
I am at odds with Teddy Chan's Bodyguards and Assassins. I am off the mindset that Teddy took a misstep making his film a spectacle rather than keeping the tone of the film a touch more serious. Yes, I understand that as far as this film goes it should be regarded as the Chinese equivalent of a Summer Blockbuster. But because after all the effort that the script takes to bring us in during the first half of the film I question his judgement to take the second half, the visit of Sun in Hong Kong, and go the route of just a typical blockbuster. And by that I mean the decision to use wire fu instead of keeping characters like Donnie Yen's Chung-Yang grounded. Chan absolutely cannot film action properly either. What should have been spectacular fight scenes between Donnie Yen and Hu Jun, Leon Lai versus a group of assassins, and so forth, are incoherent at best. Chan was also too dependant on wire rigging to make them bigger. I don't think any of this was an acceptable pay off for the audience's patience throughout the first half. That being said the audience at FanTasia was eating it up and cheering and whooping along at all the right moments. No judgement passed on them. I am just a self-righteous snob who knows how he likes his action and this did not meet my standards of well staged, executed and shot action sequences.
Please understand, Bodyguards and Assassins still worked at certain points for me. I was still saddened by the cued death scenes and passing of these heroes of democracy. But credit is solely due to the screenplay writers Chun Tin-Nam, James Yuen Sai-Sang, Guo Jinli, and Wu Bing for they wrote a commercially viable script that endears its characters to the hearts of the viewers, thus we care for them and are saddened by their sacrifices and losses. It is the first hour of the film is spent introducing and establishing characters, carrying out their daily lives, and events unravel that brings us closer to them. Their story and screenplay weave a number of heart strings then take a firm grasp of them and tugged at them with all their might in the second half of the film.
Bodyguards and Assassins still entertains and manages to make the viewer make emotional connections with its characters. And that is something that very few Hollywood blockbusters ever achieve. Khudos for that. Perhaps, if the second half of the film was constructed better it would have paid off more for myself.
Bodyguards and Assassins
- Junli Guo
- Tin Nam Chun
- Joyce Chan
- Tung Man Chan (concept)
- James Yuen
- Bing Wu
- Xueqi Wang
- Tony Ka Fai Leung
- Jun Hu
- Bo-Chieh Wang
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