The Bodyguard full movie review - Not anywhere near Sammo's best, this dull and uninvolving drama indulges in an hour of tiresome setup before an underwhelming action-packed finale
For someone who has dedicated more than half his life reinventing the martial arts genre of modern-day Hong Kong cinema, Sammo Hung certainly has not been resting on his laurels.
Not only did he recently direct Aaron Kwok and Gong Li in the many extravagant action set-pieces of 'The Monkey King 2', he has also been busy assuming similar duties on Benny Chan's upcoming period action blockbuster 'The Deadly Reclaim'. Compared to these two elaborate big-budget epics, 'The Bodyguard', which sees Sammo assume multi- hyphenate duties as director, action director and lead actor, feels like a walk in the park for the 64-year-old actor/ martial artist.
And it probably is, judging from the friends who have turned up to see Sammo return to the director's chair after a hiatus of close of two decades ? including Yuen Wah as the postman of the sleepy town at the border of China and Russia where the movie is set, Yuen Qiu as a social worker, Yuen Biao as the town's police commander and Karl Maka, Tsui Hark and Dean Shek as a bunch of town elders who always have a quick barb to trade with each other. Besides these notable alums from Hong Kong cinema past, contemporaries like Hu Jun, Feng Shaofeng and Eddie Peng have also turned up for the all- stars reunion ? though we're leaving out special guest star Andy Lau, since he is after all producer of the movie through his Focus Films company.
Though it is unlikely to expect each one of these guest stars to have a meaningful place in the film, those expecting any of them to have anything more than a glorified cameo will be sorely disappointed. Except for Lau, who plays father to the young girl whom Sammo's titular bodyguard befriends and eventually protects, not a single one of the other actors contributes any more than a 'blink-and-miss' appearance, so there's no point wondering if any will spar with Sammo at all. Oh yes, you would do well to know that these 'guest appearances' are completely extraneous to the story, which tells of a retired Central Security Bureau (CSB) officer named Mr Ding who calls upon his very particular set of skills to protect an innocent life.
As much as that premise lends itself to a martial arts showcase for Sammo, 'The Bodyguard' is anything but. Indeed, those looking for a straight-out action flick will very likely be disappointed, for Sammo approaches the 'Taken-like' high-concept movie in a conspicuously low-key manner, so much so that it ends up being an hour of set-up, exposition and character build-up for a single extended close- quarter showdown that conveniently pits Sammo against two warring gangster factions at the same time and in the same place. To call it an action thriller would in fact be a misnomer, for it is at best a simple character drama with some bits of action thrown in to lure unsuspecting viewers from Sammo's considerable fan-base.
That drama largely consists of Sammo either looking lost due to the early onset of dementia that his character is suffering from or acting shy due to the advances of his landlord Madam Park (Li Qinqin). Crucially, Sammo plays his character so aloof that we cannot quite identify with the grief he has supposedly been carrying in his heart after losing his granddaughter while out with her many years ago, which is also why he is currently estranged from his daughter now in America. In the same way, we can also hardly feel the connection between his character and the young girl he now feels responsible for, or for that matter why he suddenly snaps out of his usual passivity to defend her in the third act.
It's no secret that Sammo is a better fighter than an actor, and the fact that he does plenty of the latter and too little of the former in the first two acts makes the movie a drag. Only in the last half hour does Sammo abandon his dementia-induced stupor for a one- against- many showdown against Choi's henchmen and the Russians, which gives him the chance to engage in the sort of lethal bone- breaking we suspect most would be waiting for. Yet it is hardly breathtaking stuff ? especially for those well-acquainted with Sammo's previous movies ? and too many close-ups as well as a slower-than-ideal frame-rate for Sammo's lightning-quick moves ultimately make this too-little too-late finale slightly underwhelming.
That expectations are high for 'The Bodyguard' is inevitable; like we said, this is the first time that Sammo is in the director's chair after helming both 'Mr Nice Guy' and 'Once Upon A Time in China and America' back in 1997. Yet even without the weight of such expectations, this languid drama with just one modest fight sequence at the end is unlikely to satisfy action fans or the rare audience member looking for a serious-minded story on redemption. At this age, there is really little that Sammo need do to cement his legacy as legend, but it should also be said that anyone looking for him to revive his past glories on the big screen will go away empty. We adore Sammo just as much as his most ardent fan, but even that love and respect is not enough for us to find anything redeeming about 'The Bodyguard'. Sorry, 'dai gor'.