EXPECTATIONS: A kick-ass return to the glory days for actor/director Sammo Hung!
REVIEW: Director Sammo Hung is responsible for directing/starring in some of my favourite martial arts films. All with hard-hitting action, childish yet genial comedy and the incredibly abrupt tone changes that would give you emotional whiplash. A prime example of such a film of his would be Pedicab Driver. Are they perfect films that should be on pedestals for critical acclaim? No way. But they are damn good examples of full-bore entertainment. As to the current film, I can’t believe that it has been 19 years since his last directorial effort (Once Upon A Time In China and America), but actor/director/all-round bad-ass Sammo Hung is back in the director’s chair for The Bodyguard. But is the film worth the 19 year wait? Or will it be one major letdown?
Sammo Hung stars as an old, overweight man (What else?) named Ding witnesses a man being stabbed by a gang, but when he is summoned by the police (involving cameos from Hu Jun, Yuen Biao and others) to identify the suspect, he hesitates and is unable to. The police research Ding’s background and discover that he is a retired Central Security Bureau officer from Beijing, and they figure that he is suffering from dementia. Back at his home, Ding is frequently invited for supper by his land-lord, Park (Li Qinqin), an elderly lady who is attracted to him. Ding, in turn, frequently cares for a little girl next door named Cherry (Jacqueline Chan), whose father, Li (Andy Lau), is an abusive gambler/deadbeat dad. Due to his massive debts, he is ordered by gang leader Choi (Feng Jiayi) to steal something valuable from Russian gang members. This then results in destructive events that can disrupt and possibly put Ding’s life and everyone he holds dear at stake.
Well, the first thing that people want to know about this film is how are the fight scenes? First of all, there are very little of them in the film. Secondly, they are surprisingly sloppy, over-edited and over-stylized to the point that it could make any non-martial artist look good. So why wasn’t I truly disappointed by them? Tempered expectations are the main reason. Sammo Hung is hitting 70 soon, so anyone with a brain stem can figure out that he is not young and agile anymore. And a fellow reviewer (see his review for the film here) brought up a surprisingly adept argument regarding the editing of the fight scenes. Since Sammo’s character Ding is suffering from dementia and his state of mind is deteriorating, the climax reflects his condition through the fight scenes. Whether you agree with that argument or not, it does make a sound case.
Speaking of expectations, those who expect a kick-ass action film like I did (the marketing materials certainly reflect that) will be disappointed with this film. Essentially, this film is a drama and it’s not really a good one either. Supposedly working with an award-winning script, the film is a lousy patchwork of badly developed drama, sub-par action and obvious attempts to downright suck up to Mainland China. The drama comes off as weak because Sammo does not look like he is giving his all as Ding. And his portrayal of dementia is inaccurate to the point that the scriptwriter seems to confuse dementia with Alzheimer’s. Or was the film targeting both? Who the hell knows? It certainly does not help that his chemistry with Jacqueline Chan does not give the film the emotional punch it desperately strives to reach. A cameo by Eddie Peng epitomizes the China censorship of film so blatantly, it almost comes off as unintentionally hilarious. I expected a bad or morally wrong character to die from a hit-and-run like in many other China co-productions. Cases in point: Going Home (part of Three), Kidnap, Firestorm, Chongqing Hot Pot and others.
Speaking of cameos, those who are expecting the likes of Yuen Wah, Yuen Qiu, Yuen Biao (that’s a lot of Yuens) and others to engage in combat, will be further disappointed. But I knew it wasn’t going to happen because it reminded me of Yuen Woo-ping’s film, True Legend, where there were cameos everywhere, but none took part in fighting. I do admit I found some joy in seeing Karl Maka, Tsui Hark and Dean Shek together, just jokingly commenting about life. It reminded me of the three old men in the anime series, Cowboy Bebop. But others are just walk-ons or speaking roles that have little to no effect. A cameo from Chinese actress Song Jia is incredibly irrelevant and pointless that it will befuddle the audience, especially when it happens in the end credits, out of chronological order. As for Andy Lau’s second-billed appearance, he has a small role as a gambler/deadbeat dad and takes part in an action scene that is quite irrelevant to the plot. Overall, it is just an excuse to bring foreigners into the movie to, again, placate to the China audience that foreigners are bad and the Chinese are virtuous!
I feel terrible for bagging out this film, but it is what it is. The fight scenes are disappointingly mediocre, the drama is ill-advised, the acting is unconvincing, the cameos are overhyped, the script is a mess and even the tone shifts seem desperate instead of providing thrills. Even the China censorship is more overstated and insistent than usual. Although I’m happy to see Sammo Hung directing again, and apparently, he has another project lined up already, I am sorry to say that this was a full-blown disappointment.
Some of the cameos amuse
The fight scenes (what little there are) can thrill some
The cameos are overhyped and add very little to the proceedings
The drama does not work
The acting is tired and unconvincing
The tone shifts come off as desperate and are badly executed
SCORE: 4/10 (If only the film was as good as its marketing.)
Cast: Sammo Hung Kam-bo, Andy Lau Tak-wah, Jacqueline Chan, Feng Jiayi, Li Qinqin
Director: Sammo Hung Kam-bo
Screenwriter: Jiang Jun