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Capsule Reviews

Bodyguard: A New Beginning    (2008)
This energetic piece of low budget filmmaking highlights some of the best components of gritty British filmmaking with a heavy dose of Hong Kong style action and attitude. To top it off, the film features an all-star cast, incorporating the talents of both iconic veterans and rising stars – all working under the watchful eye of a bold and multi-talented young director!

Leung (Vincent Sze) is the loyal bodyguard of Wong (Richard Ng), the boss of a powerful Hong Kong Triad. Amidst growing tension between Wong and Kai (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), the vicious head of a rival family, Leung is sent to the UK to protect a British woman whose identity is known only to Wong. As the Triad war in Hong Kong spills out into the streets, Kai, working with Wong’s treacherous son Yuen (Carl Ng), sends enforcers to the UK to kidnap the mysterious woman Leung is protecting.

After Leung finds her, the pair struggle to evade Kai’s ever-growing army of thugs on the streets of London. Meanwhile in Hong Kong, Wong desperately tries to keep his organisation intact as the business’ foundations are weakened by his son’s disloyalty and Kai’s relentless pursuit for Wong’s territory. A final confrontation in Hong Kong will bring about an end to the carnage, but at a price none of them could have predicted.

Following his previous work in Underground, director Cheung Chee Keong proves once again he is one of the most skilled, technically capable young independent action-film directors working in the UK today. Capturing a dark, unsettling tone of drama and a fast paced, brutal and stylish flair for the action sequences, the film treads new ground and blends multi-genre conventions.

Shot neck-deep in the urban metropolis of both London and Hong Kong, the visual style benefits from the diverse range of settings and captures a unique, visceral energy that could never be achieved filming in a studio. Although the story doesn’t necessarily present anything new, there are enough innovative ingredients incorporated into the mix to deliver something fresh and exciting for both old-school and aspiring fans of Asian and action cinema.

In addition to the sights and sounds of the locations, the cities are captured in an honest, almost homely light, perhaps an indicator of the director’s sentiment towards London and Hong Kong (Cheung was born and bred in England while his folks are from Hong Kong) - despite the obvious inclusion of the criminal underworld who exists there. For residents of either city, many locations will be familiar and instantly recognizable, making the action appear all the more real and immersive.

With a variety of athletic, acrobatic movements and brutal, close-quarters fighting, the action offers plenty of variety, courtesy of action directors Anthony Carpio and Chan Man Ching. To top off the high calibre actors in the film, the physical stars are equally impressive and serve up a nice variety of loathsome villains and noble heroes. Mark Strange makes a particularly intimidating villain, and seamlessly embodies the image of a human wrecking ball, relentlessly pursuing Vincent Sze with monstrous attacks and thunderous force.

One of the strongest elements of the film can be seen in the wonderful range of actors, representing a crossover between different generations of Hong Kong stardom. Richard Ng is far removed from his comedy persona made famous in the Lucky Stars series and shows his range as a great character actor. Portraying Wong, he is both humble and, when he needs to be, incredibly ruthless and aggressive.

Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa reminds audiences why he is still considered one of the most enjoyable onscreen villains to watch, and dominates his scenes with quiet menace and calculated evil.

Carl Ng is perhaps the most surprising, having appeared in the likes of New Police Story and Legend of the Dragon, here he delivers a strong leading role playing Yuen, the conflicted and confused boss’ son. Yuen is brutal one minute, sympathetic the next, but always dangerous and very unpredictable. Carl captures the venom of this bitter character while still holding on to the underlying sense of remorse, ensuring the character is never dull to watch, adding layers of conflict to the impending gang war between Wong and Kai.

In the lead, Vincent Sze occupies the centre of the story with stylish appeal, playing the cool, silent hero who bursts into defensive action at the drop of a hat. The romance that brews between him and Chloe, the woman he is sent to protect, is predictable but shows the softer side of this tough-as-nails Triad bodyguard.

In all, the movie offers up a wide range of stars stepping into characters outside normal typecasting. This elevates the story beyond expectation and injects a new, character-driven quality of drama into the action and gangster themes.

Veteran actor, Shing Fui-On, even features in a cameo role, further evidence of the possible homage to good old fashioned Hong Kong gangster moviemaking. Certainly one of the most appealing points of the movie is the range of stars appearing together onscreen – a real achievement in casting this many talented, high profile actors in a single project.

Bodyguard is a great achievement as a low-budget piece of multi-national action cinema, breaking new boundaries while still managing to deliver traditional conventions for genre purists. It is seeing these traits; veteran actors and rising stars, or classical stories with fast-paced filmmaking, that gives the film its integral character and identity. Cheung Chee Keong is reinventing British action cinema as we speak and, trust me, you don’t want to miss out.

(Read our interview with director Cheung Chee Keong)
Mike Fury 6/17/2009 - top

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 6/17/2009 Mike Fury

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