Sunday, February 21, 2010

Bodyguards and Assassins (2009)

This is a film that is out in Asian theaters and has just been released to DVD and Blu-Ray in China and elsewhere. I would be incredibly shocked if this film doesn't make its way to the United States and elsewhere. I'm mentioning the film now because this is one that you will want to pounce on when it shows up in theaters or the video rack near you.

Set in 1906 in Hong Kong the film follows a group of Chinese men and women who want to throw off the corrupt rule of the Mainland Chinese Royalty. They are waiting for the arrival of Mr Sun, Sun Yet Sen, the father of the Chinese Nationalist movement. Mr Sun is coming to Hong Kong to meet with the leaders of the various revolutionary groups in order to bring them together into one fighting force. The men and women in Hong Kong are untrusted with putting a force together to protect Mr Sun as he moves from his ship to the meeting since the Royal Government knows he's coming and they have flooded the city with assassins in the hope of killing Mr Sun and crushing the rebellion.

The first half of the film is all exposition. Its the introduction of a wide range of characters who all play a part in keeping Mr Sun alive. The talk is full of politics and of why they are getting involved, everyone wants a better place for themselves and for their children. Everyone in the huge cast really sells their characters to the point that you actually don't want any of them to get hurt. This is the rare action film where you become invested in every character and you don't want any of the characters to meet with a bad end. It helps that the cast is huge and well known, it has 15 of China's top stars from Donnie Yen to Simon Yam to Edward Tsang, and their familiarity helps to add to the proceedings.

After a seventy minute set up the film's action begins. Once Mr Sun sets foot on Hong Kong soil the film goes into over drive as an hour long set piece starts as the heroes, the bodyguards of the title, begin an hour long moving battle through the streets against the bad guys, the assassins, as they try to get Sun to the meeting and then misdirect the enemy into thinking he's still traveling through the city and not in the center of the battle. Its an amazing piece of action that was filmed in one of the largest sets ever built, a recreation of the streets of early 20th century Hong Kong.

This is one of the best action films out there. Not only is the action fantastic, it comes with an emotional price. The long set up period during which there is only really one short action sequence, makes you feel for everyone on screen. You feel as each gets hurt, as some inevitably die and it amps up the feeling of fear for those who continue on. Watching this at home with my dad we were literally inching forward in our seats, yelling at the screen, deflating with any defeat and cheering with a win. This is one of those films that puts the huge Hollywood blockbusters to shame because its not pre-programmed and we really care about the characters.

I know some people don't like the first hour because its all talk. I can kind of see their point but at the same time without the set up the pay off wouldn't work. We need to become invested with what happens. Some people are upset that the film is very political. The reasons for everyone doing what they are doing is a political one, everyone wants freedom. Some people writing about the film elsewhere on the Internet don't like the politics of the film because its coming from China, which they feel means it's pro communist. I wish I could see their point since all the film talks about is throwing off a corrupt government with the hope of freedom. Actually I find the film very in line with right wing American politics since it talks about having to remain vigilant and fighting to remain free so we have a better world for our children (that is why we are fighting the various wars we're in is it not?)

Politics or not,talk or no, what you're going to remember is the action. Its light years ahead of what is in most action films out there. Actually this film is light years ahead of most films out there right now. I saw this film a couple of weeks ago and it's hung with me ever since. I completely understand why this film has been a huge box office hit in Asia.

When you get the chance see this film. Right now the film can be had from places like Yes Asia and video stores in your local Chinatowns. It can also be had from e-sellers.

Addendum- aince posting this review the film has was chosen to screen as part of the NYAFF 2010

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