HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Bodyguards and Assassins
HTS Overall Score:75
I remember back in 2009 when “Bodyguards and Assassins” came out in the U.S. I was actually rather disappointed that it didn’t get a Blu-ray release as that was just 2 scan years after the format started and we were still craving material to watch on our new shiny players. I was a huge Donnie Yen fan (still am actually), but for some reason I didn’t get around to watching it until I saw that Shout Factory was actually going to release the film on Blu-ray. Color me a bit surprised when I watch the film and realize that even though Yen is prominently pictures on the front case and showed as top billing, he really only shows up in the film as sub character. In fact there are a LOT of famous Hong Kong stars in the in film, and is really more an ensemble cast than anything. The Hong Kong action movie is a bit slow, and takes over an hour to get to full steam, but is a decent enough movie to warrant a watch for Hong Kong junkies like myself.
Back in 1905 the fate of China had not been set. The Qing Dynasty was coming to an end and the fomenting of rebellion was underway. Famed Dr. Sun (Hanyu Zhang) was coming to Hong Kong, which was a subsidiary of Britain’s rule at the time, in order to talk with other rebel leaders about ways to overthrow the Qing Empress. Days in advance, Chen Shaobai arrives in Hong Kong to gain the support of sympathizer, Master Li (Xueqi Wang), only to be murdered by assassins sent by Empress Dowager Cixi. Realizing that Dr. Sun is not safe after his friend is murdered, Master Li begins to enlist the aid of friends and acquaintances. Drawing together a squad of bodyguards to keep the revolutionary safe so that their hope of freedom and democracy would not be in vain.
“Bodyguards and Assassins” is an intertwining of at least a half dozen or more different subplots and characters. Sum Chung-yang (Donnie Yen) is a gambling bum, who actually was married to the now wife of Master Li, and is pulled into the cadre of bodyguards only upon the urging of his ex-lover. Sullen and complacent, he will do anything for money, even if it costs him his life. Chow Tofu (Menke Bateer) is a gentle giant who loves protecting the weak and innocent, and was a Shaolin Monk at one time or another. Ah Si (Nicholas Tse) is a young rickshaw driver who desperately wants to fit into Master Li’s family and is head over heels for a crippled photographer’s daughter. With Master Li offering to arrange his marriage for him, Ah Si is all in for protecting Dr. Sun. Lau Yuk-bak is an powerful kung fu master who has fallen from grace after falling in love with his father’s new wife, and Fang Hong (Li Yuchun) is the daughter of an imperial general who is slaughtered by the imperial assassins just days earlier. With these powerful warriors by his side, Master Li at least has a fighting chance to protect Dr. Sun on his way to meet with the rest of the revolutionaries.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=73233[/img]I was a little surprised by the pacing of the film in reality. Most Hong Kong action films tend to be really light on plot and heavy on mindless action. “Bodyguards and Assassins” is quite the opposite, with tons and tons of intricate planning and plot twists, only to be intertwined with bits of action here and there until we get to the giant 45 minute battle between the assassins and the bodyguards trying to keep Dr. Sun safe. The constant flipping between heavy drama and action really slowed the pace down a LOT, especially since it takes over and hour and 15 minutes or so to get to any real action (besides the fight between the General and the assassins near the beginning at the opera house). Most characters are given an arc in the film, which doesn’t help at all, mainly because with so many characters and so many subplots, character development is thrown out the window in favor of just giving us the cliff notes of their tales.
Once the action starts up the film becomes a lot better, as the action sequences are quite spectacular. Hand to hand marital arts and bladed weapons dominate the screen for the latter half of the movie and it turns into one giant “Kill Bill” type confrontation. As fun as that is, I was actually constantly thinking about how ironic the whole situation is. Chine comes out from under the Qing dynasty and forms a democratic style revolution, only to turn into one of the biggest dictatorships the world has ever known a few decades later. Ironic and saddening at the same time, to say the least. At the same time I was a bit saddened that Dr. Sun (who is a legendary orator and heroic character in China’s history), is basically just glossed over as a secondary character. He barely speaks at all, and is more a shadow figure than a real character in the film.
Not Rated by the MPAA
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=73241[/img]“Bodyguards and Assassins” comes to Blu-ray with a very nice looking 2.35:1 AVC encoded image. The image looks DEFINITELY different than the older Hong Kong release, as is evident by a blueish green color grading instead of the gold tint, as well as brightly saturated reds, blues and greens. Fine detail is excellent, as facial textures and the lush Asian sets just pop off the screen with razor sharp clarity. I do notice that the contrast appears to have been boosted and the image is little brighter than the Hong Kong disc. This makes some of the flesh tones look a bit pale and even some of the colors ever so slightly washed out. There’s some mild macroblocking that comes into play, with some teensy bits of haloing. Black levels are fairly strong, though, and showcase some fine shadow detail, although the boosted contrast levels keep them from being as deep as I would have liked
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=73249[/img]There are 3 different audio tracks on the Shout Factory disc, with the Main one being the Mandarin 5.1 DTS-HD MA lossless track. There is also a Mandarin and English track in DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo as well, but the 5.1 track easily edges out the stereo presentations. LFE is powerful and booming, with lots of authority when the action gets going, and the vocals are ever crisp and clean of distortions or any other abnormalities. The dynamic range is punchy and full of life, shifting from a quiet conversation to the sounds of hand to hand combat in a moment’s notice. Surrounds are very well utilized, and even though they don’t have the expansiveness of the Cantonese 7.1 track on the Hong Kong disc, those back channels get a fair amount of action to work with. Overall a very fine action track that Shout has given us.
• Five Behind the Scenes Featurettes
• Extended Interviews With Cast and Crew
“Bodyguards and Assassins” is a competent enough action/drama film, but sadly it takes way too long for the film to really get going before anything interesting. I have nothing at all against slower paced films, but this one bordered on the edge of plodding at times. By the time the action DOES get going, it’s almost too little, too late. Donnie Yen being billed as top cast and only having a supporting role was a little disappointing, but nothing to get TOO upset over. All in all it’s a competent enough film with a wide variety of Hong Kong stars in the cast to keep the overly stuffed plot decently interesting. Worth a rental if you’re an Asian film junkie, otherwise I would probably skip this on.
Starring: Xeuqi Wang, Tony Ka Fai Leung, Jun Hu
Directed by: Teddy Chen
Written by: Junli Guo, Tin Nam
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 AVC
Audio: Mandarin: DTS-HD MA 5.1, English, Mandarin DTS-HD MA Stereo
Studio: Shout Factory
Runtime: 139 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: June 14th, 2016
Buy Bodyguards and Assassins Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Low Rental
More about Mike