Bodyguards and Assassins Review
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Bodyguards and Assassins is almost two movies welded together, back-to-back. Itís billed as a martial arts action epic, and there are a several excellent action sequences in the latter half, but, at its heart, itís a historical drama about a pivotal moment in Chinese history, with a large cast of well-drawn characters.

Itís 1906, and the Qing dynasty is in trouble. Hong Kong is under British rule, and a native uprising against Empress Dowager Cixi is gaining steam. While the British tend to take a hands-off approach to matters of Chinese politics, their presence in Hong Kong has made the island a prime place for revolutionaries to gather. Dr. Sun, a prominent revolutionary living in exile in Japan, has decided to return to Hong Kong in secret for a meeting with other revolutionary leaders from the mainland. When she learns of this, the Empress Dowager dispatches a squad of assassins to eliminate him.

This is where the bodyguards come in. The driving force in the first half of the movie is Li Yutang, a businessman who wants to stay clear of the political turmoil, even while secretly funding the revolutionaries. When his close friend and leader of the revolutionaries supervising Dr. Sunís visit is kidnapped, it falls to him make sure the meeting happens.

Reluctantly at first, he begins to assemble an unusual squad of bodyguards from among the cityís residentsóa motley collection of peasants, servants, performers, drunks, and others who all possess surprising skills and resolve.

This is where the movie truly shines. The film spends the first hour and a half getting to know these people and their relationships to each other. From Li Yutangís loyal and courageous rickshaw puller to a former policeman with a gambling problem and an unusual connection to the Li family, each has a specific reason for being where they are and undertaking what is essentially a suicide mission.

All that time spent on character development pays off when the action begins in the filmís second half. As the bodyguards move Dr. Sun through the city, they face waves of assassins in the crowded streets of Hong Kong. As expected, the bodyguards begin to fall in quick succession, with many of the main characters making valiant sacrifices. Itís a familiar story structure in action films, but since weíve gotten to know these people, each of their final scenes carries more weight.

While action fans may get a bit restless, thereís more than enough to enjoy in Bodyguards and Assassins. The production and cinematography are gorgeous, and when the action does finally begin, much of the fight choreography is well doneóparticularly a long battle between Donnie Yenís character and one of the assassins. It may frustrate expectations for those who prefer either straight drama or straight action, but the two work well together here, resulting in an epic thatís well worth checking out.

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