By Penny K
The latest Hong Kong / China action blockbuster film since Ip Man, Bodyguards and Assassins is a must watch. The year is 1905 and Father of the Nation, Sun Yat-sen (Zhang Hanyu), intends to come to Hong Kong to discuss his plans for revolution with fellow Tongmenghui members to overthrow the corrupt Qing Dynasty. The Empress Dowager Cixi sends a group of assassins led by Yan Xiaoguo (Hu Jun) to kill Sun. Revolutionary Chen Shaobai (Tony Leung Ka Fai) arrives in Hong Kong four days prior to Sun’s arrival to meet Li Yutang (Wang Xueqi) a business man who provides financial aid for the revolutionaries and to arrange protective services for Sun when he arrives.
At first, Bodyguards and Assassins might appear to possess a complicated plot as indicative by its numerous important characters, all played by equally prominent actors. Not to worry for the plot untangles itself quite quickly into the film, and your shallow knowledge of Chinese history will be beefed up by explanations in the film. In the first half of the film, director Teddy Chen takes time to develop characters and plot and position them well within the historical context.
It is in the second part of Bodyguards and Assassins that the fighting takes place. Here, the Qing assassins are chasing after Sun who is on the run whilst being ferried around by a trishaw puller (Nicholas Tse) and being protected by a voluntary resistance group made up of a beggar who packs an impressive punch all with an iron fan (Leon Lai), gambler but adept fighter (Donnie Yen) and giant Shaolin monk (Mengke Bateer). The chase scenes are heart stopping and the fighting is a visual treat until someone dies.
I like Bodyguards and Assassins for the sole reason that storytelling takes precedence over action. The development of relationships between father and child, Man and Nation in the first half gives more meaning to the fighting that comes in the latter part of the film. But it is for the same reason that I can see how its movie trailer can be deceiving and fail to live up to the imaginations of those who were eagerly anticipating Donnie Yen of residual Ip Man fame to single-handedly whoop the Qing bad asses. Bodyguards and Assassins gets another thumbs up for its recreation of Hong Kong in the early 1900s through excellent sets and CGI.
Worth mentioning are the performances of Wang Xueqi as businessman and stern but doting father Li Yutang and Nicholas Tse as the naïve but fiercely loyal rickshaw puller.
Yep: It’s a lesson in history you never thought you’d learn from a kung fu flick and its stellar cast.
Oh: Not so good if you were expecting two full hours of bloody carnage, and if you expect Donnie Yen to be the same upright character he was in Ip Man.
Verbatim: No quotes to be found but reportedly, Teddy Chen’s fastidious attention to detail meant that he wanted to make the set as authentic as possible, right down to getting houseflies on the set so it would look and feel like the “Shi Ban Jie” of old.
Thumbs: 4 / 5