Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Sammo Hung is the Bodyguard

Former Central Security Bureau Agent Ding Hu always was a man of few words, but now even more so. Although he was already experiencing the initial effects of dementia, his guilt has become even more debilitating. He will probably never forgive himself for losing sight of his still missing granddaughter, but he might have a chance for a small measure of redemption when gangsters threaten Cherry Li, the little girl next door in Sammo Hung’s star vehicle, The Bodyguard (a.k.a. My Beloved Bodyguard, trailer here), which releases today on DVD and BluRay.

Spurned by his grown daughter and sick at heart, Ding relocated to a provincial city near the Russian border. It would be a prime spot for old spooks to moonlight, but it is the gangsters who do most of the fighting. The Russian and Chinese mobs are looking to encroach on their rivals’ respective territory across the border, especially the erratic Choi. To pay-off his gambling debts to the Korean-Chinese gangster, Cherry Li’s low life father Li Zheng-jiu steals a bag of loot from the Russians, but when he realizes Choi is about to pull a double-cross, he beats him to the punch. Obviously, this will bring down trouble on Cherry Li, who will naturally be staying with Ding during her father’s absence.

The Bodyguard has been likened to Sammo Hung’s Gran Torino or Harry Brown, offering the action icon an opportunity bittersweet career summation. Of course, much like Clint Eastwood, Master Sammo is as busy as ever behind the camera, in his case serving as an action director. Bodyguard is his first full name-on-the-director’s-chair helming of a film since 1997, yet he seems to have picked up a few cinematic tricks since then. Indeed, longtime fans will be surprised how deftly he tugs the heartstrings. As star and director, Hung pulls off the potentially perilous befuddled senior-precocious child relationship. He and poised young Jacqueline Chan really are quite touching and utterly believable together.

There is a veritable Who’s Who of Chinese language cinema appearing in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World style cameos throughout the film, but co-producer Andy Lau has the most substantial supporting role as Cherry’s tragic father. Stealing scene after scene, while playing radically against type, he reminds us why he is one of the biggest stars in the world. Li Qinqin also scores points for understated pathos as Ding’s lovestruck landlord, Madam Park. Eddie Peng probably gets the most action-oriented and most random walk-on in his eleventh hour appearance. Viewers should also get a chuckle out of Tsui Hark and old school movie stars Dean Shek and Karl Maka appearing as the crusty old stoop-sitters-slash-Greek Chorus in Ding’s neighborhood. However, it is a case of blink-and-you-miss-them for the half dozen other big name guest stars.

It hardly matters. This is Hung’s show in every sense—and he is only sharing his star turn with Ms. Chan. Of course, he is still the best in the business when it comes to blocking out fight scenes. Despite his heavier “screen presence,” he also still has the moves. In fact, the action sequences in Bodyguard might be the first to take into account sixty-some-year-old frame to any extent, consequently raising the stakes in the process.

Clearly, The Bodyguard was looking to make bank on the mainland—hence the friendly neighborhood CSB Agent. However, Ding eventually reveals how the Cultural Revolution forced him late wife to enter into a loveless marriage with him, to protect her “bourgeoisie” parents. That is a pretty gutsy bit a character development detail, which Hung deserves credit for keeping. Granted, Bodyguard is not quite as slyly satisfying as Guan Hu’s thematically similar Mister Six, but it is still quite a winning film. Affectionately recommended for fans of Sammo Hung and the martial arts genre he has so greatly enriched, The Bodyguard is now available on DVD and BluRay from Well Go USA.