So I’ve been hearing nothing but negative press about Sammo Hung’s first directorial effort in twenty years, THE BODYGUARD. I know what people were expecting and hoping for but I feel the expectations were far too high. I’ve purposely avoided trailers so I could be surprised when I finally saw it and while the film is flawed, it does deliver an entertaining story, a solid lead performance by a cinematic legend, and one expertly directed action scene. None of our Hong Kong action heroes can make films the way they once used to, we have to accept that. So with THE BODYGUARD, Sammo delivers a film that exceeded my expectations but I also understand why some are disappointed.
Ding (Sammo Hung) is a retired soldier, one of the best, who is now in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s and is suffering from dementia. He lives a lonely life in a small village on the border of China and Russia. As he struggles with his short-term memory, the one thing he has to look forward to are the frequent visits from the child next door, Cherry (Chen Pei Yan). Her father Li (Andy Lau) is never around, always off gambling and getting into trouble. When he’s offered the chance to clear his debt, he does what he’s told. The temptation proves to be too much for him and he ends up on the run, leaving Cherry in the care of Ding. Soon things spiral out of control and Ding will have to do whatever it takes t protect the young girl from the mobsters who her dad double-crosses.
THE BODYGUARD is more of a drama than an action film. People need to understand this upfront so they don’t get their expectations up too high. The film is jam packed from start to finish with Hong Kong action royalty. With guys like Karl Maka, Dean Shek, Yuen Biao, Yuen Wah, and Yuen Qiu, you would think there would be some crazy action scenes but all we get is nothing more than a walk on. Sure, it may be a bit disappointing but it was fun to see them on the screen with Sammo again, if only for a brief moment. I really enjoyed the relationship between Ding and Cherry, it was sweet how they interacted with one another. The story loses focus at times but manages to reel itself in when necessary. What most fans will be waiting for is the one major action scene and it’s brilliant. I hope others catch on to how this scene was shot. It’s insanely brutal, bones are broken every which way and Sammo even uses the classic x-ray shot a few times. At the same time, there’s this emptiness in the moves, a man on autopilot. It’s great that Sammo was playing it this way, with the character slowly losing his memory, the only thing left are these moves his body just automatically knows how to do and when to do them. The camera never gets too out of control during the action so you get to see all of the brutality inflicted on the Chinese and Russian mobsters. THE BODYGUARD is far from perfect but Sammo Hung has adapted his style to accommodate his age. The film tries to deliver the best of both worlds, a serious and dramatic tale while still trying to deliver the action and nostalgia of yesteryear. Perfect, no, worthy, absolutely.