The Bodyguard (2016) review
Elbow Smashing Pandemonium
Old Ding (Sammo Hung) is a forgetful retiree on the verge of dementia. As a former Central Security Bureau officer, Ding has a past that is more interesting than his lost puppy demeanor. Ding returned to the town of Suizhen, where he grew up, after leaving the Bureau. Ding’s landlady, Ms. Park (Li Qin-Qin), is romantically infatuated with him and his next door neighbor Li (Andy Lau) is a perpetual gambler and owes a debt to nearly every criminal in town.
Ding is close with Li’s daughter Cherry (Jacqueline Chan), who is always hiding out at Ding’s place when her father becomes unbearable. After a job goes south with Suizhen’s biggest criminal, Choi Dong-hen (Feng Jia-Yi), Li goes on the run with a leather duffel bag full of diamonds and bails on his daughter. Now Choi’s gang targets Cherry to get back at Li and her only hope is Old Ding, who may not be as helpless as he seems.
The Bodyguard is the first film Sammo Hung (Ip Man 2) has directed since Once Upon a Time in China and America back in 1997. The action drama film is unable to boast about much other than the leather suitcase sequence involving Andy Lau (Infernal Affairs) and a Russian gang. Lau (or his stunt double) appears to do some light parkour during this sequence and it’s fun in the sense that it scratches the surface of what made the classic and fast-paced Sammo Hung films so entertaining.
Nothing else in the film really lives up to anything Sammo Hung has done in the past. Hung basically bumbles around like a dolt for the film’s entirety and shies away from Ms. Park’s advances instead of vocalizing one way or the other about how he feels about them. Andy Lau seems to be the one person in the cast actually branching outside of his comfort zone as the smarmy and cowardly Li is unlike the kind of role he usually goes for. Feng Jia-Yi (Rise of the Legend) perhaps isn’t given enough time to properly shine as an evil crime lord, but the glimpses you do see of Choi Dong-hen involve a man with an incredibly short fuse, isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, and embraces violence more than any of the men that work for him.
Chinese films, especially older martial arts films from the Jackie-Chan-in-his-prime era, seem to portray female characters as these overbearing wenches who are unbelievably emotional, are constantly discombobulated, and claim that they know everything one minute then demand help from their romantic interest the next. Li Qin-Qin brings annoyance to a new level as Ms. Park. Her voice gets under your skin and her laugh makes you cringe. She is blinded by her love for Old Ding and yet it’s never really explained why she feels the way she does about him. Meanwhile Jacqueline Chan was hired solely because she can cry on cue. Cherry is otherwise meaningless if she’s not directly involved with the action or crying about her parents.
The film has a gargantuan amount of special appearances and cameos. Besides Andy Lau, who is also a producer of The Bodyguard, some of the noteworthy cameos include Yuen Biao (Once Upon a Time in China), Tsui Hark (director of Twin Dragons), William Feng Shao-Feng (Tai Chi Zero), and Yuen Wah (Kung Fu Hustle). It’s no surprise that Jackie Chan was offered a role in the film, but turned it down due to scheduling conflicts. The issue with this is that other than Andy Lau none of the cameos serve much purpose other than showcasing a familiar face for a handful of minutes.
Action sequences are peculiar and leave you feeling apathetic. Sammo Hung is in his 60s and obviously isn’t able to do the action choreography he could 20 years ago, but at the same time it doesn’t really seem necessary to show Ding clipping coupons moments before a big fight occurs. In one scene, somebody with a wounded leg is trying to flee from Ding who has knee problems anyway; so there is literally a limping chase sequence that lasts for several minutes. After one lackluster fight scene, the second one involves Sammo Hung slapping Feng Jia-Yi’s face repeatedly before it’s revealed that Choi’s gang is the one gang in existence who chose knives over guns. There are no guns in the film. Every gang member only carries a knife. Hung counters this by breaking as many elbows as humanly possible in 90 minutes as The Bodyguard attempts to mimic the X-Ray Move from Mortal Kombat X with lazier special effects. Halfway through all of this, the film’s frame rate suddenly plummets and everything is reduced to this awkward slow-motion effect that drags on for some excruciating minutes when it should have only lasted seconds at most. If that wasn’t enough, the film forces you to re-live all of the film’s sappiest moments in a lame montage that is even more pointless than Cherry’s existence.
Just remember that this is the film Sammo Hung came out of directing retirement for. This sloppy, unsatisfying, and clunky hour and a half is overloaded with melodrama, poor attempts at comedy, and lackluster fight scenes that would likely get the Nicolas Cage stamp of approval. The Bodyguard is disappointing to say the least and Sammo Hung should be ashamed of himself.