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My Beloved Bodyguard (aka The Bodyguard)
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by Jay Seaver

"Less action, more drama."
3 stars

Would I have necessarily had "My Beloved Bodyguard" on my radar if a site I follow hadn’t tweeted out it’s 23rd poster (roughly), which was apparently drawn by a little kid with crayons? Maybe; I have, after all, traveled to a film festival because Sammo Hung was a guest in the past, and have liked the guy ever since he had a show on CBS for a couple of years (that pre-handover period when Hong Kong stars and filmmakers were trying to stake out Hollywood careers rather than work for the Communists was kind of fun, if a bit odd in retrospect). How sticky it would have been, I don’t know. Maybe it would have fallen into the same gap some of Hung’s other recent films have.

But it didn’t, and I’m glad, both despite and because this movie is kind of an odd thing. It will, of course, be sold as an action movie, which is not technically untrue, although there’s really only one or two scenes where Hung gets to show his stuff. Instead, it turns out to be a fairly dark look at growing old in the twenty-first century; Hung plays Ding Hu, at various points a soldier, and an operative for a major personal security firm, but now living in a town on the Chinese/Russian border that has a smattering of North Koreans living there, with dementia starting to set in. He’s estranged from his family, and just well-enough aware of what’s happening to him that he discourages the locals who want to connect. Cherry Li (Jacqueline Chan Pui-yin), the pre-teen daughter of the guy next door who may be into some shady stuff (Andy Lau Tak-wah), is the one who is most determined to wedge herself inside her life, which may be helpful when her father disappears.

In a lot of cases, screenwriter Jiang Jun would find ways to pile extra action sequences into the movie - flashbacks to Ding in his prime, scenes where the bad guys show they mean business or Ding fends off some random mugger, that sort of thing. Instead, Jiang and Hung (who also directs) save it toward the end except for brief flashes and some small plot-advancing stuff that doesn’t really involve Ding. It gives a little poignancy to some of the cameos sprinkled throughout the film - aside from Yuen Biao as the local chief of police, there are a number of other retired martial-arts stars, some of whom apparently haven’t been in a movie in decades, playing the old guys hanging around on a stoop, hinting at a place where these guys go when they’re spent. There’s a sadness to the story that is not broken up in the way one might expect.

It’s not necessarily a great match to Sammo Hung’s skill set, at least as an actor; as much as he’s always had presence and given his character’s personality when they were active in between action sequences, he struggles a bit when the point of a scene is showing someone’s inner life, and director-Sammo-Hung can’t help actor-Sammo-Hung out there a whole lot. Still, it works in some ways; when Ding is interacting with someone, he seems more engaged, which seems right, even if the scenes with Jacqueline Chan as a lively latchkey kid aren’t quite what they should be. For all that the acting in this film isn’t exactly award-worthy, it seldom fails to leave the viewer with at least a little horror at the prospect of losing oneself with nobody there to take care.

Of course, this still is a Sammo Hung movie, both in front of and behind the camera, and that means that the audience is absolutely going to get a glimpse of why Hung is a living legend in action cinema. When Ding has to rescue Cherry from a group of kidnappers, the audience is not always reminded of just how well he moves for a big guy, but of the combined clarity and ferocity of his choreography and direction. The rescue would be terrific in a vacuum and serves the story by reminding the audience in no uncertain terms what may be inside the old guy who has trouble remembering what year it is.

In some ways, this sort of movie makes one worry a bit; though Hung has seemed sharp whenever he’s appeared in or directed the action for movies recently, does he take the reins of a more sincere drama than his usual work, about aging and deteriorating, unless the subject has been on his mind? I hope that’s not the case, but it probably will be eventually, rendering a decent, somewhat unusual movie a little weightier as a result.

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originally posted: 02/25/17 15:30:39
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  N/A (MA)

Directed by
  Sammo Hung

Written by
  Jun Jiang

  Sammo Hung
  Jacqueline Chan
  Andy Lau
  Yu-Chen Zhu
  Qin-Qin Li
  Jia-yi Feng

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