Movie Review: My Beloved Bodyguard (2016)
I was intrigued by the description on Netflix, where the American title is simply “The Bodyguard”:
A retired security officer with dementia befriends a little girl whose father is running from the mob. To save her, his old skills start to kick in.
I envisioned a combo of “Gran Torino” and “The Bourne Identity.” Ordinary old dude, suddenly ... POW! ... and all the bad dudes are on the ground, and all the townsfolk are looking at him in amazement.
And starring Sammo Hung? How can it be bad?
First off, everyone already knows about the martial arts skills. “Old Ding? Yeah, he’s a former Center Security Bureau officer. Bad dude. Way up there. Now he’s losing it. Too bad.” We get a female voiceover explaining everything. Everything. It’s awful. Can no one write scenes? Dialogue?
Second, there’s the way he’s losing it. He’s going to identify the movie’s leering villain, Choi (Feng Jia-yi), but during the police lineup can’t remember his face. He forgets his key, but it’s on a string around his neck. It’s all rather sanitized. Plus Sammo, bless his heart, isn’t actor enough to pull it off. He just stands there, blinking. A better director might’ve helped him out but he’s the director—his first movie since “Once Upon a Time in China and America” in 1997.
The sideplots and side characters suck, too. His doctor (Feng Shaofeng of the “Monkey King” movies) tells him all of his organs are failing and he needs multiple operations; then he smiles and says, “I’m joking. Other than your memory issues, you’re fine.” Funny, doc. Always good to joke with a dementia patient. A neighbor lady, Mrs. Park (Li QinQin), keeps making a play for him, but her age and neediness (and his reluctance) are played for laughs. There’s a recurring bit with three old men sitting on the sidelines and commenting upon the proceedings, and they’re played by old Hong Kong mainstays Tsui Hark, Dean Shek and Karl Maka. It should be great stuff—like the three old men in “Do the Right Thing”—but something either gets lost in translation or it wasn’t good to begin with.
But the biggest problem? The girl Sammo is supposed to save. Good god, she’s obnoxious.
Her name is Cherry (Jacqueline Chan), and she runs away from her gambling, good-for-nothing father (Andy Lau) to hang with Ding. How does she lay low? She puts on his old Chinese guard outfit, with all the medals, and pretends to be a headless ghost. He tells her not to wear it. Three times. “Fat men are supposed to be funny!” she yells before pouting and stomping off. At night, he gently fixes the wound on her forehead (from her father?) and in the morning she’s repaid his ministrations by fixing a bandage on his forehead with the words “Serves you right” and a frowny face. They pass an ice cream stand. “Buy one for me!” she yells. They go fishing; she complains he catches too many fish. He looks at her with love but she was nails on a chalkboard to me.
The plot. Andy Lau owes the local gangster gambling debts so agrees to do a job: steal a bag from Russian mobsters across the border. He does, but with the Russians in pursuit, and Choi refuses to forgive the debt—if he was ever going to—so Andy keeps the bag. Now he’s got Chinese and Russian gangsters after him.
One night, Choi’s men show up at Ding’s place, grab the girl, and demand to know where the father is. Here’s our moment. We’re finally going to get what we came for. But it takes Ding forever to move. It’s less “Bourne” and more slow-mo. Once a fight finally happens, he breaks bones. I’ve never seen a martial arts movie with more bone snapping in the soundtrack. Is the little girl amazed? Nah, she faints. Then the authorities move her to nearby relatives. But they can’t stand her (see?), so she flees back to Ding, who keeps buying her ice cream.
Then she goes missing.
I should add there’s a dull backstory about Ding losing his granddaughter. One day, they went out and only he came back. Maybe that was the beginning of his dementia? We’re never sure. But his daughter never forgives him, nor he himself. Trying to protect this horrible brat, the movie suggests, is his way of making amends.
And that’s why he confronts Choi. Using a newspaper photograph, Ding hobbles around town until he finds the autoshop that is the front for gambling operations run by Choi, and he demands to know what they’ve done with the girl. When they give him nothing, he fights and breaks limbs. They keep coming at him with knives rather than guns. (One gun and he’s done.) Then the Russians arrive, start killing the Chinese, and the main bad Russian dude take a swipe at him. This may be my favorite part of the movie. He looks back, does a double-take (how could he have missed?) and takes several, more serious swipes. And still misses. Then the battle is engaged. Ding takes them all out. He risks life and limb to find the girl.
Guess where she is? Oh, at a friend’s house. She just never bothered to tell anyone.
Old “Three Dragons” costar Yuen Biao makes an appearance as a friendly cop to whom Ding shows a tape recorder that includes Choi’s bragging confession for murder. But it’s blank. Either Ding never turned it on or he erased it. Here’s the weird thing: By the time he shows the recorder, Choi is already dead. So it doesn’t matter that it’s blank. But the movie treats it like it’s a sad thing with consequences.
Ding winds up living with the girl, who, as she matures, takes care of him in his dotage and dementia. She’s the narrative voiceover, of course.
Look again at that plot description at the top of this review. Someone can still make a good movie of that. But this isn’t it. Not nearly.