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…”

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