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Musings from the Edge of Forever

Note: This blog expresses only the opinions of the blog owner,
and does not represent the opinion of any organization or blog
that is associated with RONIN ON EMPTY.

We Fight, We Cry, We Die

B&A 01

This is the coolest I’ve ever been!

Is Bodyguards and Assassins a great film? The folks who voted for Best Picture at the 29th Annual Hong Kong Film Awards seemed to think so, awarding Teddy Chan’s flick not only the top prize, but a slew of other trophies including Best Director and Best Supporting Actor, among others. Despite receiving some notice from the Hong Kong Film Critics Society and the Golden Horse Awards, the voters for these respective entities had other ideas about who deserved Best Picture, as did the folks at the Awards, who didn’t even nominate Bodyguards and Assassins in its top choices. Although I haven’t seen every film of 2009, I think I understand the omission.

In terms of pure filmmaking craft, Bodyguards and Assassins ranks as an impressive feat, overcoming a decade-long, intensely troubled production to deliver a top quality product, full of drama, political intrigue, action, and some top-tier actors to boot. But is Bodyguards and Assassins a “great film”? I don’t think so. The film spends a lot of time with its multiple protagonists, attempting to get us involved in their various subplots and sympathize with their individual plights. It works — to a degree — but the sheer number of characters that make up this ragtag group of misfits is so overwhelming that it’s hard to feel anything for them beyond a superficial level — that is, save Nicholas Tse’s excellent turn as a simpleminded rickshaw driver. Plenty of films ask you to care about multiple characters — The Lord of the Rings trilogy, for instance — but I think Bodyguards and Assassins only gives you the bare minimum to become invested in these characters. For some, it will be more than enough. For me, it was only adequate.

B&A 02

I think the primary issue this film has is that it — through words and deeds of the characters themselves — is so goddamn serious about THE FATE OF ALL CHINA that its self-importance becomes almost laughable at times. And as much as I enjoyed the film’s second half, the moment you come to realize that everyone is basically glorified cannon fodder (with onscreen text to emphasize their sacrifice), it almost feels like self-parody by the end. If there was a Chinese equivalent to Leslie Nielsen, Jeff Lau should hire him for the obligatory parody — Chinese Odyssey 2011. The film is so overblown it’s more than ripe for parody. Here’s the plot: people fight, people cry, and people die — and not necessarily in that order. As things stand, an alternate title could simply have been Martyrs.

I did think it was interesting to begin with a quotation from Abraham Lincoln. Having Chinese characters speaking admiringly of a Western figure? It seems like downright heresy in light of Ip Man 2, True Legend, et al.

Anyway, the most interesting character in the film besides Nicholas Tse’s Ah Si is the disgraced Prince Lau, played by Leon Lai. A drunken beggar due to some backstory issues that come to light late in the film, the revived and rejuvenated Lau looks like Ekin Cheng’s hairstyle sibling and boasts some pretty nifty moves. The ensuing fight with the assassins is quite good, although casting an actual martial artist or at least giving the fight a bit more screentime, could have definitely elevated it to a Hong Kong action sequence for the ages.  As is, it’s memorable nonetheless. It’s still better than the Donnie Yen action sequence, although DOOONNNIIIE! does his damnedest to entertain with a rollicking chase-cum-fight in the streets of Hong Kong.

Ultimately, I think Bodyguards and Assassins is probably one of the better period action films we’ve seen in a while, but its professed self-importance comes across as a bit silly and heavy-handed. It’s not a bad film at all; I recommend checking it out for yourself.

Grade: B+

For a more in-depth look at the film, check out Kevin’s full review here and Kozo’s take here.


One Response to “We Fight, We Cry, We Die”

  1. CeeFu Says:

    We must be twins, because this is exactly what I thought! That’s all I got.

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