A Little Girl Needs a Bodyguard
I had a quiet night recently and decided to see what Netflix had to offer in the martial arts action sub-genre. I ended up picking The Bodyguard with Sammo Hung, in part because of the description. The story of a young child who needs saving, and in turn saves the savior has been done well before. Man on Fire with Denzel Washington is a more widely known example of this kind of story. I was also interested in seeing Mr. Hung on film as I have not seen much of his work. His performance in Ip Man 2 was exciting to watch and gave me hope for seeing more from him. So, how did this movie pan out?
Martial Arts Breakdown
Mr. Hung is a well-known martial artist, actor, and director. However, he may be most well known for very good martial arts choreography in movies and television shows, including the first two Ip Man installments. This fact makes the choreography in The Bodyguard all the more mystifying. Not only was Mr. Hung credited as the action choreographer, but this was his first directorial effort in almost twenty years. This means there is only one person responsible for the look and feel of the martial arts on display here.
I know that Mr. Hung is not in physically great shape and capable of high-flying acrobatics. However, I still believe he is a great martial artist. Unfortunately, this movie does not display it well. Mr. Hung’s character is described as a former Central Security Bureau agent which provides the necessary backstory for the hand to hand combat he displays during fight scenes.
The biggest problem is that when there is a fight scene, it cuts too often. Typically you get to see no more than a few, quick hand techniques, then the scene cuts. When the scene does wait a little longer before cutting, Mr. Hung looks good. However, these instances are rare. While the fast scene cuts don’t make you lose the layout of the room, it does detach you from the intensity that should be present in the scene. Consequently, this is not the best I’ve ever seen Sammo Hung on film.
I discovered that The Bodyguard is the first movie Sammo Hung has directed in almost twenty years after I watched it. Mr. Hung has been a part of many good, and even great, movies and television shows in the past. Unfortunately, this is just not a good movie. This movie does have “parts” of good movies all throughout it, however. Imagine a movie with a touching story of companionship, brutally depicted action, as well as the soundtrack of………a Jackie Chan movie! Wait, what?
At times it reminds me of Man on Fire when it is focusing on building the relationship between Ding and Cherry Li. Cherry is a young girl who lives down the street with a father that is a compulsive gambler and not around much. This is in addition to a mother who is around even less. Cherry spends more and more time with Ding to escape her life at home. However, he is slowly losing his ability to remember and she begins to look after him. It becomes obvious that they both need each other more and more. The movie is strongest in these parts when their mutual companionship is being developed.
There are other times when this movie reminds me of the Raid movies. There are countless instances during the few genuine action sequences of broken fingers and elbows, as well as stabbing and slashing of various body parts. This brutality was not done “off-screen” either. The brutality makes sense within the movie as much of it comes from the Chinese and Russian mafia, and Ding. The injuries were presented as serious, not comedic.
These first two elements can make a decent, if not above-average, movie when you think about it. Unfortunately, I have no idea what the thought process was with the soundtrack backing it all up. The choices for musical style during the softer parts are pretty spot on. When the movie turns violent, it is another matter altogether. As I previously stated, there are fairly brutal depictions of violence during this movie. Unfortunately, the music that is paired with some of these scenes has a somewhat slapstick, or playful, tone that does not convey the gravity of the scene. Thankfully, the final showdown does not suffer from this issue. You can make a Jackie Chan-style action comedy movie. Alternatively, one could make an unapologetically brutal one like the Raid movies. However, these are two flavors that do not mix easily.
I have a few issues here as well. During any tense scene leading up to, and through, any action scene Mr. Hung chose to use a “heightened reality” visual approach which only detracted from the fight scenes. I’m sure it was meant to portray how everything was “slowing down” for Ding’s character. However, it only served to muddle the visuals of the scene.
Also, Mr. Hung chose to utilize “X-Ray vision” for every time a joint was bent in a way that Mother Nature never intended. Every. Single. Time. Just in case you as the audience were not aware that fingers and elbows did not bend in that direction. This also took away from the experience as it became even more annoying after multiple consecutive joint breaks that Ding’s character performs in rapid succession.
I really wanted to like The Bodyguard. The premise seemed perfect for a slightly more thoughtful martial arts movie than typical. I know that Mr. Hung is capable of higher quality than this, and I truly hope to see him return to form in the future. Unfortunately, the sum of the parts was actually less than the whole in this case.
Certain flavors just do not mix, with this movie being an example.
If you are interested in watching the movie, it is available to stream on Netflix.
I would love to hear what you think of the movie, so don’t hesitate to start a discussion in the comments below!