Shi Yue Wei Cheng
“Bodyguards and Assassins”
Hong Kong, 2009
When the revolutionary Dr. Sun Yat Sen plans a return to Hong Kong, his supporters find themselves in the midst of a life-and-death struggle to protect the one man who can save China.
Unlike most martial arts films, “Bodyguards and Assassins” lacks a clear hero for the audience to identify with. The plot revolves around a group of Chinese revolutionaries working at a newspaper press, including the businessman owner and his son, the president of the press, the owner’s rickshaw driver, and a host of other colorful characters from around the city. It seems like this band of heroes is meant to symbolize the necessity of unity among all the social levels of Chinese culture, but as a film, it makes it difficult to follow a single storyline. There are numerous subplots revolving around a rickshaw driver’s love interest, a daughter seeking revenge for her father’s murder, a police officer’s strained relationship with his estranged wife, and, of course, the plans to escort and protect Dr. Sun from the government’s team of ninja assassins (no, seriously, Chinese ninjas).
Donnie Yen, the film’s big martial arts star, plays the aforementioned cop, who begins the film by working for the local government, doing odd jobs for money to spend on wine and gambling. His wife left him for the businessman with his daughter, but goes back to him and asks him to help protect Dr. Sun. He agrees after meeting his child for the first time, and lends a critical hand in protecting the escort through the streets of Hong Kong. He eventually is hunted down by one of the top assassins working for the government, played by MMA superstar Cung Le, the second most recognizable face in the movie. Their fight scene is the best in the film, and is probably the biggest draw for Americans looking for the movie.
To call this movie a “Kung Fu Film” would be a bit of a misnomer. Really, it’s more like a historical film that happens to use martial arts and wire-fu in the fight scenes. The fights are choreographed and shot well, complemented nicely by the orchestral rock music score. Unfortunately, due to the lack of a clear hero, there isn’t much of a final showdown with the big bad boss man, resulting in a somewhat anti-climactic ending. Even with the cast of lesser heroes, tragedy abounds through the film, removing any chance of catharsis that could have been used to relieve the audience’s tension. In the end, there isn’t really a personal resolution to the film. As a Chinese-American, I do feel a small swell of pride as Dr. Sun’s mission is accomplished, but it may be a little much to ask of people who don’t have the cultural connection to the historical events portrayed in the film. Still, if you’re just watching it for the “good parts,” it’s still a movie worth picking up.