Bodyguards And Assassins(2009)
- RatedPG /GenreAction, Drama
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
A film like this, adorned with no less than a dozen stars from the Asian entertainment industry, must be a producer's dream.
From Nicholas Tse to Fan Bing Bing to Donnie Yen to Wang Xueqi to Leon Lai, members of the ensemble cast collectively carry broad appeal, a great asset when you're putting together a blockbuster film for the massive Chinese-language market.
With its star power, director Teddy Chan's Bodyguards and Assassins is likely to be a hit.
Upon viewing, however, it is also likely to disappoint for the most part. With the presence of respected action star Yen, one would have expected a lot more gripping fight scenes than what's on offer.
The main pitch for the film leads one to believe that this would be more action than drama.
The plot centres around a tense five hours on an October day in 1905, when a rag-tag team of revolutionary-minded citizens decide to usher a mysterious figure thought to be Dr Sun Yat-sen in five hours through 13 blocks of what is now the Central district of Hong Kong island.
Their mission is fraught with danger as assassins sent by the Qing Dynasty are watching their every move, and ready to pounce at a moment's notice. Meanwhile the British colonial governors have little interest in antagonising the Qing government, and offer scant protection for the revolutionaries.
It is up to these unlikely heroes, made up of a rich businessman (Wang), a newspaper editor (Tony Leung Ka-Fai), a bunch of rickshaw pullers (Tse included) and a handful of skilled fighters (Yen, Lai and former NBA basketballer Mengke Bateer) to carry out their mission.
Their job is to allow the visiting Dr Sun to conduct a secret meeting to unite revolutionary factions, and protect him from harm so that he can foment a popular uprising that would depose the Manchu rulers and open the door to a democratic republic of China.
Some viewers will feel cheated, for the crucial mission -- and most of the fighting – only takes place in the final third of the film. Apart from that, the film is unevenly propped up with flag-waving rhetoric, impassioned debates about the moral imperative of the revolutionary sentiment, and foreboding warnings that liberty could entail heavy sacrifices.
Many of the emotional scenes are heavy-handed and come off as trying way too hard to wring tears from the audience. Maudlin moments and violent action sequences do not mix well, and the final product is watchable in patches at best.
Chinese actor Hu Jun is sufficiently menacing as a Qing loyalist hell-bent on killing Dr Sun and destroying anyone who stands in his way, while Fan has little screen time to leave a lasting impression.
Yen seems miscast as a n'er do well gambler, when almost everyone in the audience would probably want him to break out of his shell and let loose with his significant repertoire of kungfu moves. He is not spared the excessive sentimentality, as he is one of several characters with sob stories.
Tse, as a good-natured but simple servant, has his acting frailties cruelly exposed in this role, as he is often seen trying to 'cute' his way through scenes.
No amount of star power can mask those deficiencies, nor the fact that the film, for one that is centred around Dr Sun and a pivotal moment in Chinese history, has turned out to be uninspiring, tiresome and verging on the melodramatic.
In short, this was no revolutionary piece of filmmaking, even if its cast makes its producers happy.
About Yong Shu Chiang
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.
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