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Posts Tagged ‘Andy Lau’

Sometimes you find yourself basically on your own in a holiday cottage in Hampshire, pondering the fact that the movie from the House of Mouse you caught five interesting minutes of a couple of nights before is not available to watch on the BBC catch-up service, due to them pushing their own streaming service with the usual ruthless implacability. And at moments like this, you ponder the essentially venal and unsatisfactory nature of much of western civilisation, before perhaps turning to the ancient cultures of the east in search of deeper wisdom and insight. In my case this usually translates into watching an obscure kung fu movie on a different streaming site.

On the most recent occasion, the film I wound up watching was My Beloved Bodyguard, a 2016 film starring and directed by the legendary Sammo Hung (the movie is also known simply as The Bodyguard, but that just puts me in mind of the 1993 Costner-Houston movie). The film eschews the usual glittering locales common to martial arts films for a small town in that obscure corner of the world where the Chinese, Russian and North Korean borders practically rub together. It is here that Ding (Hung), also known as Fat Ding or Old Ding for reasons you may be able to guess, has chosen to retire following a distinguished career as a civil servant in Beijing. Happy for many years, he is now estranged from his daughter (his only living relative) and leads a quiet and perhaps quite lonely life.

The only excitement comes when some gangsters carry out a brutal stabbing outside Ding’s humble home. Being a good citizen, Ding calls the cops and attempts to identify the guilty party – but at the ID parade he is suddenly hesitant and uncertain. His memory is starting to go! A trip to the doctor (whose name Ding struggles to remember) confirms that he is showing symptoms of early-stage senile dementia.

We then get quite a lot of Ding trying to come to terms with this, not to mention fending off the romantic attentions of his busybody neighbour (Li Qinqin). But for most of the next forty minutes or so it is mainly about his friendship with Cherry (Jacqueline Chan), the young and endearing (if she isn’t, it’s not for want of the movie trying) daughter of local lowlife Ji (Andy Lau). She keeps clambering in through his window. They go fishing together. She puts on his old bemedalled uniform jacket. It is clearly meant to be quite charming.

Meanwhile Ji has gotten into debt with Choi, the gangster whom Ding failed to recognise at the ID parade (he is played by Feng Jiayi) and is packed off over the border to steal some jewellry from the Russian Mafia in Vladivostok. Ji double-crosses Choi and runs off with the loot, however, thus putting Cherry in the firing line of not one but two sets of vengeful gangsters, with only a morbidly obese old man with incipient senility to defend her. She’s in trouble, right?

Well, maybe not, considering this is Sammo Hung, a martial arts legend (he plays Bruce Lee’s opponent in the opening scene of Enter the Dragon, and the rest of his career is equally distinguished) for whom morbid obesity has been a selling point for decades (you may recall his US TV show Martial Law, which one reviewer summarised as ‘fat Eskimo cop somersaulting onto bad guys in Los Angeles’, only partly inaccurately). My Beloved Bodyguard may well be sincerely trying to highlight the issue of the plight of elderly people suffering from dementia in China, but I suspect what most of the audience is waiting for is the moment when swaggering bad guys push Ding too far and he cuts loose with the kung fu (he wasn’t just a civil servant, he was a decorated member of an elite security agency and a martial arts champion). To this extent the film is essentially the Chinese equivalent of one of those ‘bus pass badass’ movies that have started to appear over here, starring people like Liam Neeson, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger – although Jackie Chan’s The Foreigner is perhaps a more pertinent example.

Well, the moment eventually arrives, and not before time, no doubt causing a cry of ‘Hurray!’ from many viewers. Possibly followed very shortly by cries of ‘Eeeegh!’ and ‘Oooh!’ from watchers lulled by the slow-motion gentleness of the plot with Ding and Cherry and not expecting the hair-raisingly graphic violence which ensues. Here’s the thing: Hung was in his early sixties when he made the film and clearly can’t move the way he used to, and so the fight scenes have to get their impact in some other way. So Ding doesn’t just slap people about and kick them in the head until they fall over: serious, important bones and joints are snapped, crunched, and shattered, with a helpful CGI effect highlighting just which bits of the skeleton just broke (at one point Hung flops onto a major bad guy paunch-first, pulverising his spine). Coupled to this are numerous stabbings and throat-slittings.

I mean, this would probably all be par for the course in a Tony Jaa or Iko Uwais film, but it’s tonally wildly at odds with all the preceding business with Fat Old Ding befriending the little girl almost despite himself. It’s as if there are two totally different sensibilities at work in this film – one trying to make a gentle, family-oriented drama, the other a brutal gangland action film. Either of these would have been fine, but they just don’t work together. Late on, the film experiments with what looks very much like a third style, of more tongue-in-cheek action-comedy – an injured bad guy tries to hobble away to freedom, with Ding shuffling implacably after him, resulting in possibly the lowest-speed foot chase in action movie history – which feels much more like the kind of film this perhaps should have been. But it’s not much and it comes very late.

The tonal mismatch is probably My Beloved Bodyguard‘s biggest problem, but the film is oddly plotted overall – major characters disappear without explanation for long stretches of the film, the way the story is set up and the principals introduced likewise somehow feels a little incorrect, and so on. No matter how good the acting is – and Hung, Lau, Chan and the others generally give decent performances, while there are cameos from a plethora of big name martial arts stars and directors, mostly knocking on a bit – the story remains slow and a bit underpowered, with most of the action confined to the last half hour. I sat down to watch this film mostly because of my fondness for Sammo Hung as a director and performer, and he does enough to carry the film – as both a drama and an action piece – for me not to regret that choice. Others may find they have a different feeling come the end of a movie which is many things, just not the ones you’re probably hoping for, nor ones which naturally go together.

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