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Chinese language cinema

Film review: The Bodyguard – Sammo Hung directs and stars as dementia-stricken agent

Underwhelming action drama misses opportunities to showcase stellar cast of martial arts stars while pandering to mainland audience and censors

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 April, 2016, 2:30pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 April, 2016, 12:57pm

2/5 stars

Martial arts fans anticipating Sammo Hung Kam-bo’s first directorial effort in close to 20 years will be left sorely disappointed by The Bodyguard. Despite its promising set-up of gang violence and revenge, the film is for the most part a slow-paced drama about a haunted former secret service officer struggling with dementia.

Early trailers for The Bodyguard played up the fact that Hung has peppered his cast with martial arts stars of past and present, including Yuen Wah, Yuen Biao, Eddie Peng Yu-yan and director Tsui Hark. They all remain on the periphery, however, never getting involved in the action, further compounding the sense of disappointment at an opportunity sorely wasted.

Hung casts himself as Ding, a retired Central Security Bureau officer plagued with guilt after losing his young granddaughter years earlier. Now retired and living a quiet life near Vladivostok, Ding makes an unlikely friend in Cherry (Jacqueline Chan Pui-yin) the young daughter of his neighbour Li (Andy Lau Tak-wah). His landlady Miss Park (Li Qinqin) has eyes for the gentle giant, but when he is diagnosed with dementia, Ding retreats even further from society and social interaction.

It is only when Li – a compulsive gambler in debt to local mobster Choi (Deng Chao) – goes on the run with a bag of jewels Choi stole from some Russians, that Ding is finally compelled to act. His efforts to protect Cherry – who has become a surrogate for his missing granddaughter – set Ding on a bloody path against not only Choi’s gang but also the Russian mafia.

Hung has directed dozens of martial arts classics over the years, including The Prodigal Son and Eastern Condors and starred in many more. Even in recent years, his action choreography in films like Ip Man and Detective Dee remains innovative and influential, which makes it all the more disappointing that his work here is so subpar.

What little action there is – and it’s not until the third act that the film shifts out of first gear – is shot in claustrophobic close up using an irritating blurry effect. Edited to ribbons, it is impossible to fully appreciate Hung’s choreography, and proves too little too late for a film determined to be anything but a kung fu movie.

Clearly targeting a broad mainland audience, by championing the courage of the CSB and devoting vast amounts of screen time to cutesy sequences between Ding and Cherry, even inserting a cop-out ending to placate the censors, The Bodyguard proves retirement isn’t always a bad idea.

The Bodyguard opens on April 1

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