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  The Bodyguard  
  |     review    |     notes     |     availability     | No, this isn't a caterpillar on my forehead!"
Sonny Chiba is The Bodyguard
 
  AKA: Bodyguard Kiba, Karate Kiba, Viva Chiba the Bodyguard  
  Year: 1973  
  Director: Tatsuichi Takamori, Simon Nuchtern (1976 footage)  
  Producer: Susumu Yoshikawa,Terry Levene (1976 footage)  
  Cast: Sonny Chiba, Judy Lee, Etsuko Shiomi, Tsunehiko Watase, Ryohei Uchida, Yayoi Watanabe, Aaron Banks, Bill Louie  
The Skinny: Sonny Chiba takes on the Mafia in this marginally entertaining 1970's era exploitation flick.
Review by Calvin McMillin:

     No, LoveHKFilm.com has not lost its collective mind and decided to review the Kevin Costner/Whitney Houston flick from several years back. This Bodyguard stars Sonny Chiba, who makes for a far more intimidating presence than the director of Waterworld ever could. Before the audience even meets the guy, they are treated to a number of gimmicks to prepare them for just how much of badass the filmmakers intend their protagonist to be. For starters, the film's opening crawl uses the same fiery "Ezekiel 25:17" speech spouted off by Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction. However, there are a few differences between the two; most noticeably, the words "The Lord" are replaced with "Chiba the Bodyguard!" How's that for intimidating?
     If comparing Sonny Chiba to God wasn't enough, the film's credit sequence is peppered with repeated quasi-religious chants of "Viva Chiba!" to emphasize the man's standing. And in this version of the film (more on that distinction in the notes), the filmmakers insert an early sequence with Aaron Banks and Bill Louie, two real life martial arts champions, who go on to debate who was the better fighter, Bruce Lee or Sonny Chiba. As one man demonstrates the trademark kicks and punches of Bruce Lee, the other shows off Chiba's many karate antics, including his patented testicle-smashing finishing move. Looks like a draw to me. If this part of The Bodyguard is to be believed, the events of the movie take place in a parallel universe in which Sonny Chiba is not only a famous Japanese actor, but an international crime fighter as well. Sure, I'll buy that.
     Still, even with all the hype surrounding him, Sonny Chiba doesn't disappoint. He's the consummate badass. We finally meet Chiba when mafia terrorists (yeah, you heard me) hijack Japan Airlines to off our hero. Of course, Chiba thwarts their attempts, killing five mobsters with his bare hands and a lit cigarette hanging precariously from his mouth. After his midair heroics, Chiba holds a press conference in which he slices the top off of a Coke bottle with the side of his hand, painfully illustrating what he'll do to any mobsters and drug dealers who cross his path. He also offers his services as a bodyguard to anyone who will squeal on the mob. Soon enough, he's approached by someone ready to take him up on his offer: Reiko (Judy Lee), the longtime Japanese companion of Don Salvatore Rocco, the recently slain mob boss of New York. It seems the Cosa Nostra is after her, and for some reason they're all played by Japanese guys. The accurate casting of ethnic roles doesn't matter much to Chiba; he kills them all. But like most of Chiba's films of this ilk, there's significant gains and losses. It's never a totally happy ending.
     As typical with this sort of movie, there's plenty of gratuitous violence, whether it be bonebreaking, eye gouging, arm ripping, or good old fashioned decapitations. Surprisingly, this otherwise cheesy exploitation flick has a few arty shots, too. For instance, when Chiba's sister Maki gets roughed up by the mob, she's left lying nude in the shadow of a church's giant cross. And for some reason, there's more Christian imagery than you can shake a crucifix at in this picture—in fact, so much that you'd almost swear John Woo directed the flick. Sadly, Chiba doesn't brandish two guns at any time in the film.
     To clarify for those who aren't familiar with the genre, it's an accepted fact that good exploitation flicks are evaluated from a different set of standards than good mainstream pictures. They're a completely different breed of animal. Many times, what would be perceived as "poor qualities" in a mainstream picture are actually the things that make exploitation flicks all the more worthwhile. In this alternate take on the concept of "quality," the real crème de la crème are the movies that are unabashedly trashy. Simplistic plots, loony dialogue, and gratuitously over-the-top violence are actually a plus. The Bodyguard doesn't exactly achieve the same dizzying, grindhouse-style heights as Chiba's Street Fighter series, but it does make for a passably entertaining time killer. As usual, Sonny Chiba makes the best of it. His magnetic screen presence is obvious, despite the fact that spends the majority of the picture dressed like the world's stuffiest English professor.
     A film's entertainment value can sometime rest entirely on its presentation. And with all the wonderful technological advances made with DVD, it's a shame that The Bodyguard has been given such shabby treatment for home viewing. The only DVD version of this film in the U.S. suffers from the pan-and-scan treatment as well as an atrocious (even for VHS) picture quality. The film could have benefited from a restored widescreen transfer, but even the correct aspect ratio and a cleaned up print probably couldn't have saved this turkey. However, regardless of any complaints, fans of Sonny Chiba and grindhouse cinema will probably be satisfied. (Calvin McMillin, 2003)

 
Notes:

• The scenes with Bill Louie and Aaron Banks in New York were added to the 1976 US version of the film. This explains why the characters in this 1973 film have a poster for the 1974 Hong Kong film The Tongfather hanging in their dojo.
• Quentin Tarantino got the idea of Jules Winfield's "Ezekiel 25:17" speech from The Bodyguard, though he made some alterations. The Bodyguard's version of "Ezekiel 25:17" reads as follows:

 

The path of the righteous man and defender is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who in the name of charity and goodwill shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper, and the father of lost children.

And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious anger, who poison and destroy my brothers; and they shall know that I am CHIBA the BODYGUARD when I lay my vengeance upon them.

 
 
Availability:

DVD (USA)
Region 1 NTSC
Brentwood Home Video
Pan and Scan Format
English dubbed
Sonny Chiba Biography
Available as part of Brentwood Home Video's "The Ten Faces of Sonny Chiba" 10-pack and "Sonny Chiba's Greatest Hits" 4-pack

 
   
image courtesy of Brentwood Video
 
   
   
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