Bodyguards and Assassins (2009)

Wait For It!  WAIT FOR IT!

Netflix recommended today’s movie to me.  I’ll count it.  Netflix has had a hard time with me ever since I started sharing my Netflix with my roommate, and even more since I started reviewing movies.  My roommate’s taste in movies tends to vary from my own pretty drastically.  I tend to like to fill my time with big dumb action movies and he likes movies that Jesus saw in theaters.  Add that big of bunch of confusion to the completely random requests I receive as a reviewer and Netflix no longer knows what to do with me.  So sad after spending so many years with a person and you just start to think you’ve got them figured out just to find out they’ve hit their midlife crisis and changed completely.  So, when Netflix recommends something to me nowadays, I must be careful.  Let’s see if Netflix still knows what I like in my review of Bodyguards and Assassins, written by Tin Nam Chun and Guo Junli, directed by Teddy Chan, and starring Zhang Hanyu, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Wang Xueqi, Hu Jun, Donnie Yen, Fan Bingbing, Wang Po-chieh, Nicholas Tse, Leon Lai, Simon Yam, Li Yuchun, Mengke Bateer, Zhou Yun, Eric Tsang, Jacky Cheung, Michelle Reis, and John Shum.

The movie revolves entirely around the revolutionary leader Sun Wen (Zhang Hanyu) making a trip to Hong Kong to set plans to overthrow China’s corrupt Qing Dynasty.  The Empress sends a group of assassins, led by Yan Xiaoguo (Hu Jun), to kill Sun and stop the revolution once and for all.  Chen Shaobai (Tony Leung Ka-fai) and Fang Tian (Simon Yam) lead the group of revolutionaries that intend to keep Sun safe long enough to set the revolution in motion.  But, before they get the chance, Xiaoguo attacks the rebel headquarters, killing Fan Tian and abducting Chen.  Chen’s friend, business man Li Yutang (Wang Xueqi), decides to take the reins of the revolution in Chen’s absence.  He recruits martial arts master-turned-beggar Liu Yubai (Leon Lai), daughter of the dead revolutionary, Fang Hong (Li Yuchun), and an outcast gigantic monk, Wang Fuming (Mengke Bateer).  His mistress (Fan Bingbing) also recruits her ex-husband and the father of her child, Shen Chongyang (Donnie Yen).

I’m so epically torn about this movie.  At first, the movie was so slow-moving and basically uneventful that it actually caused me to look inward and think about what was wrong with me instead of what was wrong with the movie.  I ended up on a conclusion that I’ve reached before: I’m a racist.  I start typing a bunch of unpronounceable names in my reviews and I automatically assume the movie that I’m watching will be a chop-socky martial arts movie.  In my defense, I also assumed based on Donnie Yen’s involvement.  And if this movie is one that fully considered itself a martial arts movie, it would be the biggest “Too much story, not enough action” failure I’ve ever experienced.  What I came to realize while watching it was that it might not be a flat out martial arts movie.  You can get a handle on that because there’s one fight scene in the entire movie before you reach the climax of the film.  But after the clouds of my racism started to clear and I could see the blue skies of open-mindedness, I realized that Asian people have other options when making their films and this might actually be the American concept of “drama” for a good portion.  Of course, I also don’t really care for dramas, especially when I go in expecting a hardcore action movie because of my racism.  So I found the majority of the movie to be boring.  The story was okay, but wasn’t much beyond a plot to assassinate someone and a plan to protect him.  All the planning and buildup to it seemed to do not much beyond getting us connected to the characters.

I thought the movie had cemented a thoroughly negative review for itself as I was coming to the part of the movie when Sun arrived.  There were things that deserved some praise to the movie, but it was just too slow, uneventful, and boring for me to say I liked it.  Then the movie’s climax happened.  And, based strictly on the climax, I now like this movie.  It was heavy on suspense and tension, had moments of extreme drama, and finally gave me the action and martial arts I was waiting for.  They were transporting Sun via rickshaw when all kinds of shit starts going down, and it scarcely lets up until the movie ends.  First archers, then ninja-like guys, then guns, then more warriors, then one really bad warrior.  Just mounting dangers with maybe a minute of down time.  The drama comes from the various characters that sacrifice their lives for the cause, each one getting a memorial message on screen saying, “This person.  Born this year, died 1906.”  I won’t spoil who it is, but one of them you see coming from very early on, just because of how thick the rest of the movie laid it on with him talking about how he was going to get married after the mission.  Someone that has that many plans for what they’ll do after something probably won’t survive it.  And the martial arts displayed in the climax are fantastic!  The first bit is Mengke Bateer as the giant, strong, outcast monk that lays plenty of beatings.  Then Li Yuchun does a pretty solid bit of fighting with a heavy revenge undertone.  Then Donnie Yen does what Donnie Yen does, and it’s spectacular.  His fights were fantastic and even the scene of him running away was spectacular.  His fights also had a great undertone of redemption because he wanted to finally be a part of something bigger than himself for the sake of his daughter.  His sacrifice was a little goofy though.  Then Leon Lai takes on a large gang of enemies all by himself to buy some time, and that was also spectacular.  The very last few fights weren’t particularly spectacular, but there was some good emotion infused in it.

I think all of the characters were performed very well and I have no complaints.  Wang Xueqi did the greater majority of the emotional work, and he did it spectacularly.  I think the thing that kept me from really enjoying the performances was the fact that I wanted more action to be happening, so I was too busy sulking for the majority of it to really enjoy their performances.

Bodyguards and Assassins really threw me off.  I was fully ready to sit down and tear the movie apart for being too slow and boring, and being too much of a drama with far too much planning for me to have wanted to sit through it.  But the climax of the movie was so gundamned spectacular that I kind of fell in love with it.  Not the entire movie, but this is probably one of the best climaxes in a movie I’ve seen in recent memory.  I would say that you should watch this movie, but be fully aware that the time you’re investing in the first three quarters of the movie will all be paying off in the end.  Give it a shot.  Especially since it can be streamed on Netflix right now.  I think it was worth my time, and it’s also worth yours.  Bodyguards and Assassins gets “An investment that pays off in the end” out of “I’m going to do so much after this review!  I’m going to marry the photographer’s daughter and live happily ever after.  Oh wait…”

Let’s get these reviews more attention, people.  Post reviews on your webpages, tell your friends, do some of them crazy Pinterest nonsense.  Whatever you can do to help my reviews get more attention would be greatly appreciated.  You can also add me on FaceBook (Robert T. Bicket) and Twitter (iSizzle).  Don’t forget to leave me some comments.  Your opinions and constructive criticisms are always appreciated.

Flash Point (2007)

The Point at Which Flashing Happens

I believe today is the first time I’ve received a request from my friend Drewchum.  Drewchum is an Asian, so it’s not farfetched to think that the movie he would request would be a martial arts movie.  It’s also not farfetched to think that he just thought about the Pokémon Farfetch’d when I typed that sentence.  Despite my incredible whiteness, I have long been a fan of the martial arts genre of movies, so this was a request I was more than happy to grant.  And the fact that it was available on Netflix streaming only helped the matter.  And the star of this movie is one of my favorite martial artists that’s in prime condition enough to still put out good martial arts movies!  So let’s get into my review of Flash Point, written by Szeto Kam Yuen, directed by Wilson Yip, and starring Donnie Yen, Louis Koo, Collin Chou, Ray Lui, Xing Yu, Fan Bingbing, Kent Cheng, Xu Qing, and Teresa Ha.

Detective Sergeant Ma Jun (Donnie Yen) is working with his undercover partner Wilson (Louis Koo) to take down three drug dealing brothers: Archer (Ray Lui), Tony, (Collin Chou), and Tiger (Xing Yu).  Ma is an unconventional and aggressive cop, but he gets results.  See, even China has clichés.  The brothers are starting to make moves against rival gangs ultimately reaching the point where Tiger tries to kill one of the rival gang leaders with a knife, but Wilson intervenes.  The gang leader survives and agrees to testify against the brothers.  During an attempt to collect their money to flee, Archer is arrested while Wilson’s cover is blown to Tony and Tiger.  Wilson is badly injured when Tony hits him with a car, but he survives.  With the brothers still trying to kill Wilson, Ma must try to protect Wilson while still trying to take down the drug dealers.  But can he do that while still playing by his own rules?!

I’ve been noticing a disappointing trend in the newer age of martial arts movies.  I don’t know if it’s an attempt to copy American movies, or to get noticed in America, or if directors are just getting more artsy fartsy in the Orient, but a lot of martial arts movies are focusing a lot more on story recently than on the action.  That’s right; I called this a disappointing trend.  I want there to be some story when I go into a martial arts movie, but it really doesn’t need to be much more than a reason for the hero to want to punch the face of the villain.  All I need is, “You killed my brother.  Prepare to die.”  What I don’t need to see is the early stages of Wilson’s relationship with his girlfriend, their depressing dates, and them spooning together.  I also don’t need a lot of the random goofy things that they waste time with, such as the random group of old people who wanted to jump in the beach but were not supposed to for some reason (I couldn’t read the sign that probably would have said why in Chinese), or the group of the cops that were playing in a band, with Donnie Yen on the bass drum.  If you’re thinking these two things have absolutely nothing to do with the movie, you’re right.  And what’s worse is the fact that these stupid things and regular parts of the story make the action spread pretty thin.  To the movie’s credit, when the martial arts start in the movie, they’re pretty awesome.  I get the feeling that the fight choreographer just found out about MMA and said, “The world needs to see this shit!  …Y’know, more than they currently do on TV.”  But combining the movie choreography experience of the Asian martial arts movie scene with mixed martial arts has potential, and it’s realized here.  They use a lot of stuff that MMA fans will notice, such as Jiu-Jitsu, boxing, kickboxing trapping and knees to the head, ground and pound, side mount and knees to the ribs, etc.  It all worked really well.  The problem with it was how far apart it was spread.  It starts off with a couple of fairly short fights, has a couple of gun fights and a few car chases and collisions, but doesn’t really come around until the end of the movie.  The very end of the movie is a good collection of action that I had been waiting patiently for through the rest of the movie.  Some cool and stylized gun fights and a very satisfying concluding fight between Ma and Tony.  A lot of cool uses of MMA and wrestling and was what I had been waiting for, but I did think the conclusion of the fight was less than satisfying.  Before that, the only fight worth mentioning happened about 10 minutes earlier when Ma fought Tiger.  The chase leading up to it was pretty cool and bordered on Parkour.  There was even a part where Ma ran along a wall like the Prince of Persia games.  And he suplexed that mother fucker!  I don’t see that nearly enough since I stopped watching WWE.  So, basically, the only thing I truly want to see in a martial arts movie is martial arts, and it’s far too spread out for my taste.  When it happened it was great, but we need to focus up on what we’re good at here and not try to force story into movies that don’t really require it.

I honestly feel like I was barely paying attention to the performances in this movie.  This’ll be a quickie.  I love Donnie Yen.  He’s always a total badass, and able to pull off many different forms of martial arts in movies.  Very versatile, and a pretty decent actor as well.  Louis Koo seemed mopey half the time.  Collin Chou was vaguely intimidating.  Ray Lui and Sing Yu tried too hard.  Fan Bingbing has a funny name, but she was pretty cute in the movie.  Not just physically, but her personality was pretty cute too.  I’m mainly thinking about one scene in the movie when she was laid up in a hospital with her leg in a sling and Louis Koo said something like, “Don’t go anywhere,” and she bobbed her leg up and down in the sling.  It was cute.  And that’s all I’ve got.

Flash Point is a movie that wasn’t able to resonate with me because they focused too much on story.  The story didn’t wind up being anything all that impressive and when you compound that with the fact that the story spread out the action too thin.  When it was there, it was pretty great, but there was just too little of it for me.  Not a bad watch, but there’s some better movies you could watch.  Ip Man, for instance.  But if you’re looking for a martial arts movie, there’s worse ways to spend your time on Netflix streaming.  Flash Point gets “Robert want more punchface!” out of “I need a place to find more movie quotes…”

Let’s get these reviews more attention, people.  Post reviews on your webpages, tell your friends, do some of them crazy Pinterest nonsense.  Whatever you can do to help my reviews get more attention would be greatly appreciated.  You can also add me on FaceBook (Robert T. Bicket) and Twitter (iSizzle).  Don’t forget to leave me some comments.  Your opinions and constructive criticisms are always appreciated.