Wednesday, June 22, 2016

NYAFF ’16: The Bodyguard

These boots were made for kicking your butt and that’s exactly what Wu-lin is going to do. His master instantly recognized he was the only one skilled and virtuous enough to wear the Iron Boots. Years later, this is still a sore point for Wu-lin’s former fellow disciple, Jiang-li. Wu-lin has yet to remove said boots over that same period of time, as per tradition, which sounds pretty fragrant. Perhaps that explains why his boss’s daughter is less than thrilled to have him tagging along. However, she will soon be quite happy to have him handy in Yue Song’s The Bodyguard (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 New York Asian Film Festival.

Initially, it looks like Wu-lin lives off tips for doing the Van Damme-style splits, until chance reunites him with Jiang-li. Knowing his skills, Jiang-li hires his former brother for his bodyguard company, even though they seem to subscribe to the Enter the Dragon/Kill and Kill Again calisthenics programs. Much to everyone’s consternation, the wealthy Li Jia-shan immediately hires Wu-lin to serve as his daughter’ bodyguard, partly because he saved Li’s bacon in an earlier action scene, but mostly because looks honest (he certainly doesn’t dress like bribed-up turncoat).

So basically Li hires Wu-lin to protect Fei-fei from the rest of his own company. Sure, that makes sense, just like it makes sense to have a paramilitary looking bodyguard agency fronting for a Kung Fu death cult with shadowy financial interests. Frankly, it is never clear just how their evil business plan works, but messing with the Li family seems to be a big part of it.

Regardless, Yue has got killer moves and a reasonably engaging screen presence. His debut The King of the Streets was appealingly grungy, but The Bodyguard represents a considerable step up in filmmaking skills. The scale is larger this time around and the action sequences are more ambitious. Becki Li also elevates her thesp chops as Li, developing some nice platonic chemistry with Yue. Yet, maybe most notably, the actor-director also recruits some big name sparring partners, including former Shaolin monk Xing Yu (a.k.a. Shi Yanneng), who crushes it as Jiang-li.

You’d better take off your pedantry cap, because Yue does not have a lot of time to waste on logic. Instead, he is putting his iron boots in bad guys’ faces. There also happens to be an iron fist, but it definitely plays second banana to the boots. It is all kind of silly, but also pretty awesome. Recommended as a good old fashioned, old school Kung Fu beatdown, The Bodyguard screens this Saturday night (6/25) at the Walter Reade, where the presentation of the Daniel A. Craft Award for Action Excellence Award to Yue will be part of the festivities.