Bodyguards and Assassins (2009)

Reviewed by Travis Else
August 24, 2011

Bodyguards and Assassins
Donnie Yen • Simon Yam • Eric Tsang • Hu Jun • Zhou Yun • Fan Bing-Bing
Dark October
Teddy Chen
Stephen Tung Wai • Lee Tat-Chiu
139 Minutes
Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1 Color
ENGLISH: Dolby Digital Stereo • MANDARIN: Dolby Digital 5.1
Five Behind-The-Scenes Featurettes • Extended interviews with Cast and Crew • International Trailer • Exclusive QR Code for Additional Bonus Materials
Vivendi Visual Entertainment
1 – NTSC
Purchase & Info
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It’s 1905, and revolutionary Dr. Sun Yat-Sen is on his way to Hong Kong to get together with other leaders of his underground resistance movement. Qing assassins are planning to make sure Dr. Sun doesn’t get out of HK alive. In the meantime a rag tag group of impassioned youths are prepared to protect Dr. Sun at all costs. Bodyguards vs. Assassins…fight!
thoughts on the movie

Bodyguards and Assassins is a film that has it all, good story, characters, music, pacing, set-design, and (lastly) action. This is a movie that takes its time setting up, but it’s worth it. The writers really want you to understand the characters’ motivations (good guys and bad guys) before the action begins. And understand them we do. It goes a little overboard with the drama, really beating us over the head with how important of a moment this is for China, but the film reins itself back in before it gets too corny. It automatically gets points for not ending in a tournament surrounded by evil foreigners (FEARLESS, IP MAN, IP MAN 2, TRUE LEGEND). If B&A was a conventional action film, it would have started with the action scene that took place at the 25 minute mark and then flashed-back. This is good, straight-forward storytelling that doesn’t rely on gimmicks. Really the only thing missing from the story is a couple resolution points which would have given the film a greater sense of completion.

Some people criticize how this film was advertised (all action), but a misleading trailer doesn’t make the movie itself bad. I remember when I was an early teen I saw an ad for STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT, which was 30 seconds of ships in constant battle. I went to see this movie and to my chagrin, it turned out to be an actual movie with story and characters. Years later, I realized how good it actually was. There are also complaints about how this isn’t based on actual history, but it doesn’t necessarily contradict history either. Dr. Sun did start his Chinese Revolutionary Alliance in 1905 and Chen Shaobai (Tony Leung) was a real historical person who was in charge of the Hong Kong chapter and was the editor-in-chief for the China Daily. All that to say, if Dr. Sun would have had a meeting with all the leaders of this alliance, it probably would have been around this time. It didn’t, of course, and what we have is a ‘What if’ type of story; not editing the h istory books, just adding an extra chapter. It’s not like we’re talking THE PATRIOT (Mel Gibson) level of historical inaccuracy.

Bodyguards and Assassins is an all-out cathartic epic that will satisfy fans of quality filmmaking. I felt more for these characters than I have felt for a majority of the other epic character stories to come out of china in recent years. My compliments to Director Teddy Chen and Producer Peter Chan, who is quickly becoming a favorite of mine with this and The Warlords. The action is not as gratifying as the rest of the film unfortunately, which keeps it from becoming an all-time classic. It’s still very good and highly recommended.

was it funny?
Not really. There were a couple humorous moments with Mengke Bateer aka Stinky Tofu vendor.
How was the Action?
The overall intensity of the final hour is consistently high, with several action payoffs. The action itself ranges from pretty good to just okay. There is some quick cutting, as many people have pointed out. However, there’s more than just the Donnie/Cung Le fight to talk about. I thought the fight with Li Yuchun had some good, albeit stunt-doubled moments. And the Leon Lai standoff was another highlight. The problem is all these fights come in short bursts, with character reactions cutting in between sometimes. This can get frustrating after a while. I’ve watched this film twice now and the action was a little less satisfying the second time, but there’s still good stuff here. The fights have emotional content, they just lack the HK style and flair one would expect from a production like this. The Donnie/Cung Le fight is still awesome though, worth repeated viewings.
Standout performance(s)

Wang Xueqi is great as a business man who originally wants nothing to do with this, but slowly gets pulled in.

Buy or Pass
6 Reasons Why You Should BUY or PASS On This Movie.
1. BUY if you want a movie where you actually care about the characters.
2. BUY if you want action that is enhanced by the character arcs.
3. BU if you want solid, no gimmick film making.
4. PASS if you are looking for action more on par with IP MAN or FLASHPOINT.
5. PASS if you don’t like movies taking their time getting to the action.
6. BUY if you want an epic drama with breath-taking sets and an hour-long action pay-off.

Solid DVD release from Vivendi. Some good special features, though I wish there were more. Some interviews overlap too.