I knew very little about Bodyguards and Assassins going into the theatre. I had heard a basic plot outline that could be described as ‘16 Blocks with a team of kung-fu fighters instead of Bruce Willis’. Having now seen the film I think that sentence does a disservice to the film.
B&A is set in 1906, British ruled, Hong Kong. Revolution is in the air with student protests and rebel groups finding their footing. With police and other forces using subterfuge and political assassination to quell the rebel rousing Hong Kong could explode like a powder keg. Into this politically charged environment an exiled man known as Dr. Sun Yat-Sen intends to come to Hong Kong to have a meeting with other revolutionary leaders in an attempt to organise a rebellion against the current ruling parties and institute a Democratic Republic of China.
With Dr. Sun days from Hong Kong both revolutionary and imperial forces make plans to protect him with bodyguards or kill him with assassins. The majority of the film is told from the perspective of a father and son who are initially on opposing sides to the revolution although this is more out of the father wanting to protect his only son from harm than any real allegiance to the imperial forces.
I went into B&A, as well as I’m sure a few others will, expecting a raucous rampage of kung-fu fury akin to the Once Upon a Time in China series however it wasn’t long before that thought was squashed. B&A is more a drama with action taking a backseat for a lot of the ride. It also with great heartache that I tell you that, what action there is often obscured by the shaky camera work that is employed only in these scenes. For a lot of the time the film is well shot, in a muted colour palette, but well shot all the same it’s just a shame that the action is so poorly handled.
B&A has a real line up of familiar faces in the film. Simon Yam (Election) appears in what could almost be called a cameo appearance, Eric Tsang (Infernal Affairs) is good in the role of Hong Kong’s chief of police, Donnie Yen (SPL) works well for the most part as a gambling addicted police officer and Nicholas Tse (New Police Story, The Storm Warriors) plays a rickshaw driver who only wants to see his masters happy. I’m not sure if anyone is topping their other performances since I’m usually the guy that reviews the anime, no one seemed to let the side down in terms of acting.
B&A is a good dramatic film with a third act full of action that is often let down by its shaky camera work which is a real crime when you have Donnie Yen and many others in the cast with a background in action film making. I’m not familiar with my Asian history so maybe it was the right decision to not trivialize an important event by making an action film out of it nor can I mark it on historical accuracy either. If you can go in happy with an ensemble historical drama with action taking a back seat you might be able to have a fun time with Bodyguards and Assassins.