Review: BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS 十月圍城 (2009) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Review: BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS 十月圍城 (2009)

Review: BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS 十月圍城 (2009)

BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS chronicles during the crucial days in Hong Kong's Central District circa 1906 where democratic activist Chen Xiao-Bai (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) receives a news that friend and revolutionary figure Sun Yat-Sen (Zhang Hanyu, in heavy make-up) will be visiting the country to meet with 13 other important activist leaders about overthrowing the Qing dynasty. Chen is aided by his friend Li Yue-Tang (Wang Xueqi), a successful businessman responsible for funding Chen's propaganda newspaper. However, Li is particularly worried about his beloved son, Chung-Guang (Wang Bo-Chieh) for joining Chen's revolutionary movement. With news already spread out about Sun's trip reaching Hong Kong within few days, the Qing court sends out its best assassin Xiao Guo (Hu Jun) to make sure the revolution leader will be executed before he reaches the meeting. Xiao Guo and his gang begin their mission by wiping a group of veteran soldiers, led by General Fang Tian (Simon Yam) who are originally hired to protect Sun, before proceeding to kidnap Chen. When Li starts to realise his friend goes missing, he decides to drop his indifference about the political agenda he chooses to ignore all this while and sets up to fulfil Chen's hope by continuing the mission. So he enlists a strong group of bodyguards to make sure Sun succeeds the meeting and gets out of Hong Kong alive. That group includes Tian's rebellious daughter Hung (pop star Li Yuchun), family rickshaw driver Ah Si (Nicholas Tse), street vendor/ex-Shaolin monk Stinky Tofu (NBA player Mengke Bateer), disgraced aristocrat-turned-beggar Prince Lau (Leon Lai) and policeman/compulsive gambler Chung-Yang (Donnie Yen), who was once a spy for the Chinese assassins. 


REVIEW: This is it. Teddy Chan's long-awaited and highly-anticipated BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS has finally reached the big screen after 10 years of troubled production history, which includes the suicide of an investor back in 2004, budgetary problems, rainstorms and labour disputes.

With an all-star ensemble cast, an intriguing historical premise, a big-budget Hollywood-like production, and award-winning producer Peter Chan behind-the-scenes, it is natural that (everyone) has high hopes for this one. 

Given all the hard effort they have done here, it's disappointing to say that this isn't as great as one might hope for but for a Hollywood-scale Chinese-language blockbuster, it certainly deserves a few credits as a reasonably entertaining effort. 

While the premise is nevertheless exciting to pay attention for, the movie is overly melodramatic with too many didactic talk about the glory of the revolution that feels annoyingly repetitive and obviously manufactured emotions surrounding some of the characters' personal agenda (notably subplots involving Ah Si's marriage and Chung-Yang's past relationship with Li's concubine wife, played by Fan Bingbing). 

At times the movie also tends to go a little off-sided with comedic moments (the one involved with Stinky Tofu) that feels cheesy than a naturally lightweight inclusion. 

The all-star ensemble cast, in the meantime, appears mostly as a string of glorified cameos with mixed result. The weakest of the lot is Leon Lai's terribly underdeveloped role as the beggar who can't get over with the loss of his loved one (Michelle Reis, in a cameo) and Fan Bingbing's thankless role. 

Still, the movie comes alive once the much-anticipated, one-hour big finale takes place. Unfold nearly in real-time, there are multiple major action sequences featuring some impressive fight choreography (notably Donnie Yen-Cung Le's parkour/MMA brawl in the open market) and wince-inducing moments of bone-crushing violence. 

The production is top-notch, with the exact replica of Hong Kong's Central District circa 1906, meticulously re-created and seamlessly blends with CGI landscapes that give the movie an added authenticity. 

Though it's hardly a classic by any means, BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS remains a must-see event this end-of-the-year season.

Teddy Chan's 10-year-in-the-making big budget historical epic is a mixed bag of an uneven all-star ensemble cast, intriguing premise and well-staged action choreography.

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