Bodyguards And Assassins

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A wonderfully shot film with a strong cast and some nicely choreographed fight and action sequences, Teddy Chan’s historical drama doesn’t quite match up to the likes of Ip Man and struggles while trying to maintain realism in light of all the fantastic elements. Set in 1905 Hong Kong, it is a time of revolution and intrigue, with various murders and power struggles shaping the course of history. Sun Wen, an influential politician opposed to the Qing Dynasty, is coming to Hong Kong to discuss plans to overthrow the dynasty, but the Emperor sends multiple assassins to kill Sun and put an end to his uprising. The Emperor’s power is overwhelming and given that the British Colonials do not wish to become involved in internal struggles, Sun, along with Chen Shaobai – a revolutionary and newspaper editor – and his businessman friend Li Yutang, try to prevent the assassination by bringing together a group of bodyguards a la The Magnificent Seven. 

The film features big hitters such as Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Nicholas Tse, Tony Leung (Ka Fai), and Lin Bingbing in a large ensemble cast. The basic story is simple, but the plot becomes unnecessarily overblown with each character having their own minor arc which in most cases only confuses matters rather than helping to expand upon the character. I mistakenly thought this was going to be a primarily led Donnie Yen movie, and while Yen does feature heavily, especially in the various action set-pieces, this is more of an ensemble piece. I can’t say I’m remotely familiar with the period the film is covering, but the constant over the top action clashes with the realism of the film. This is usually fine, but the film sets itself out to be a serious historical drama rather than a fantasy based retelling like Ip Man. Hong Kong does look beautifully authentic, with bustling multi-national alleys filled with rickshaws and market stalls, and there is a sense of revolution and paranoia in the air. The costumes, the setting, the choreography are all strong, and most of the set-pieces, while not memorable or outstanding, do get the heart pumping. With an exciting finale where many of our heroes are dispatched, it is a film that is worth a watch for fans of Hong Kong action, but be prepared for more drama that you may have expected.

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Have you seen Bodyguards And Assassins? How does it rate against other historical martial arts epics? Let us know in the comments!

The Empress And The Warriors

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Ching Siu-tung is known to most for his exquisite Chinese Ghost Story trilogy as well as a popular choreographer in numerous worldwide hits, but he had not had a hit as a director for many years. The Empress And The Warriors blends light-wuxia elements within a more authentic historical context and sees epic battle scenes and martial arts set pieces wrapped around a simple love triangle and the tale of a woman trying to restore peace between warring nations. There isn’t anything particularly original in the plot or the way it is told, but for both those new to this type of cinema and veterans there is plenty to enjoy.

Kelly Chan gives a great performance as the young ruler of one of China’s many kingdoms, forced into rulership after her father is killed and under the tender guidance of Donnie Yen as the fearsome General Murong. Chan isn’t the typical lilting beauty, and is willing to throw herself headlong into danger and warfare to protect her nation, and it is during one of these encounters that she is gravely injured and later ‘rescued’ by Leon Lai as Duan – a loner who leaves deep in a forest unwilling to get involved with the problems of mankind. As she heals her body, her mind wishes to return to fight for her kingdom, but her heart yearns for the peaceful life with Duan. Naturally war finds its way to her and more swordplay ensues.

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As expected, we have artful, breathless action with superb choreography, but we also get a stellar cast, beautiful shots, and powerful soundtrack. As mentioned above, the plot isn’t too convoluted – a mixture of standard revenge and romance which should not alienate any newcomers, and the action is swift without being overblown – veterans will enjoy seeing Donnie Yen suiting up and recognise that it’s a return to form for the director. Not a masterpiece by any means, but still a strong action movie with plenty of heart.

Have you caught this ‘little known in the West’ movie? How do you think it holds up against other martial arts epics? Let us know in the comments!

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