Brazenly declaring itself “the best martial arts film in the past 20 years”, the very same claim made by the director’s previous film, The King of the Streets, Yue Song’s Super Bodyguard follows Wu (Yue), a mysterious rambler who, having just arrived in the city of Lengcheng, both saves the life of wealthy businessman Li and reunites with his long lost friend Jiang (Shi Yanneng), who was raised by the same master but left for the city years ago, jealous and angry at not being taught the same ‘Way of the 108 Kicks’ as Wu. Now Jiang is the owner of a bodyguard agency, and he assigns Wu to protect Feifei (Li Yufei), the daughter of businessman Li. A spoiled brat, she’s initially reluctant to be followed around by the uncouth Wu, who wears 25-pound steel boots and thinks a wine’s vintage is its expiration date. But after he saves her from a kidnapping attempt, she warms to him and as the two go in hiding, feelings develop. But Wu’s past haunts him, and Jiang’s anger is still alive…
Yue Song, the writer-producer-director-choreographer-actor of his two films so far, is an interesting and endearing figure in the waning world of martial arts cinema. A jeet kune do practitioner, he has chosen to devise his own low-budget starring vehicles rather than start as a bit player in bigger films. He shares with Tommy Wiseau multi-hyphenate confidence, instant vanity and an slightly unclear background, but the comparison stops there, because Yue has real talent. Super Bodyguard is never boring, hurtling on to a brisk and familiar 80 minutes full of fights, melodramatic flashbacks, training montages and yelly confrontations, with not a single surprise or effective emotion in store. The story, superficially borrowing from Corey Yuen’s Bodyguard From Beijing (which itself borrowed from Mick Jackson’s The Bodyguard) and from almost every martial arts cliché in the book, is impressively stale and constantly slathered in faux-pithy statements on destiny, success and kung fu. The phrase “Everyone has their own destiny”(or variations of it) is repeated a numbing amount of times, a drinking game waiting to happen. The love story is underdeveloped of course, racing from initial annoyance to lovey-dovey beach walks (and a beach horse-ride, and a beach car ride). There’s a shockingly unsurprising twist, and generally too much self-seriousness for such a simplistic concoction.
However, this is a fight film, and though Yue Song fails risibly at bringing depth or emotion to the table, he acquits himself admirably when it comes to the action. The choreography (with input from Shi Yanneng) is crisp, hard-hitting, slightly enhanced, sometimes bordering on cartoonish but always wildly entertaining. It’s mostly one-against-many fights – with the pick of the bunch a grueling and protracted warehouse fight – with a variety of supporting fighters coming into play, like the hulking Jiang Baocheng (seen in Wrath of Vajra and Legendary Assassin), or the formidable Xu Dongmei (seen in Little Big Soldier and He-Man); but there’s also a highly implausible but enjoyable chase scene, plus two short but superb mano-a-mano’s against the ever-reliable Shi Yanneng. Unfortunately, the cameoing Collin Chou only gets to fight in a quick flashback, but it’s good to see him, as well as good old Michael Chan Wai Man who’s only getting more charismatic with the years. Yue Song himself is a fairly appealing lead, with good deadpan humour, a wistful smile and a hint of self-derision, not to mention considerable fighting skills, of course. Still, for his career to really kick off (Super Bodyguard barely registered at the Chinese box office), he might need to start appearing in other people’s films, in addition to his own.
Long Story Short: Cheesy and simplistic but brisk and hard-hitting, Super Bodyguard is wildly entertaining and quite hilarious, the latter not often intentionally. ***