Jude Thaddeus L. Bautista
The Beggar (Leon Lai) transformed himself. He shaved his beard but his hair remained long and wore a silk robe. He alone stood between the army of assassins his weapon is a long black steel folding fan. A dozen of them attacked him with spears. In a split second he unfurls the fan shielding himself and decapitates his attackers by using the razor sharp edge of the fan. Away from the fray, an assassin climbs up the wall to the room of their target. The beggar sees him, picks up a long bamboo pole and thrusts it on the assassin. What makes the scene powerful is how the choreography convinces viewers that one man can defeat more than 50 men. Although acrobatic it flows in its own logic and captivating pace.
“Bodyguards and Assassins” can be seen for free as part of the 6th Spring Film Festival at the Shang Cineplex in Shangri La Plaza mall from January 20-29, 2012. The action is only a detail to the more important context of the story. The film is actually probably one of the most important historical accounts of the modern revolutionary history of China. Dr. Sun Yat Sen, then the leader and founder of the Nationalist movement, was coming to Hong Kong in order to visit his ailing mother. The Qing Empire will do everything in its power to stop the man who challenges their rule.
The story is based on actual event in 1906 and the great personal sacrifices made to protect Dr. Sun from the assassins. Li Yu Tang (Xueqi Wang) is a tycoon who owns the local newspaper and gets drawn into the revolution. The historical backdrop that wasn’t dealt with in the film was the great corruption and excess of the empire’s rule in China. This caused a huge amount of poverty and suffering in what was already one of the largest populations in the world.
Xueqi Wang won the Asian Film award for Best Actor for his role as Li Yu Tang. He also won the Asian Film award for best Supporting actor for “Forever Enthralled” which was shown last year in the 5th Spring film fest also in Shang Plaza. Circumstances force Li Yu Tang to choose between right and wrong even when it jeopardizes his many business interests. He assembles a group of unlikely heroes to safeguard Dr. Sun who is recognized as the father of this new movement to free China.
Each of them has an intriguing backstory as to why they are in the state of their life. Eventually, defending Dr. Sun is a way for them to seek salvation and redemption from mistakes they may have committed in the past. Donnie Yen plays Shen Cheng Yang, in his prime one of the best martial artists in the police force of Hong Kong. He however has a penchant for gambling, which has taken him to a downward spiral of debt.
He has a spectacular fight scene against a royal henchman played by UFC star Cung Le. Apart from his current movie roles, Cung Le was the Strikeforce Middleweight champion until it was bought by the UFC. Wanderlei “Axe Murderer” Silva handed a KO loss to Cung Le in his UFC debut late last year. Cung Le will play the lead role in the upcoming Hollywood flick “Dragon Eyes.” Another MMA fighter Gina Carano is the lead for the film “Haywire.”
Leon Lai (The beggar) is one of four Canto pop superstars that the Hong Kong media has designated as Four Heavenly Kings. The Bio channel airs separate features on them, which includes: Andy Lau, Aaron Kwok and Jacky Cheung. Lai also co-starred with Xueqi wang in “Forever Enthralled” as the lead actor Mei Lan Fang. For this movie Lai shows his versatility with the action scenes as he mostly known as a romantic lead or in dramatic roles. Jacky Cheung has a minor role as Yang Qu Yun.
Another interesting character is Wang Fu Min affectionately called “Stinky Tofu.” He is played by the 7 foot tall, Mengke Bateer. The character is very similar to Jaws (Richard Kiel) in 007 films like “Moonraker” and “The Spy Who Loved Me.” In this case, Stinky Tofu is on the side of the good guys.
The film is definitely epic in scale; producers have highlighted the fact that they recreated the early 20th century era Hong Kong as a set. Even at that time huge Chinese signage already covered the tops of streets. These days they are bigger and are electric or neon. Coolies or rickshaws were the mode of transportation over cobbled stone streets. Sampans were all over the harbor. There is a great variety of films in this year’s Spring film fest made free by sponsors like Credit Suisse and organized by the Ateneo De Manila University Ricardo Leong Center for Chinese Studies, Confucius Institute and Ateneo Celadon. For the many action fans out there they shouldn’t miss “Bodyguards and Assassins”.
Make sure to check listings and be there early to reserve seats as it comes on a first come first served basis. For screening schedules please log on to www.shangrila-plaza.com or like them on facebook: shangrilaplazaofficialfanpage.