Welcome to the Everything Action segment called Action and Adventure Classics (A2 Classics). With all the amazing special effects driven action movies today it can be difficult to objectively evaluate the older, less flashy action cinema. Nonetheless, some of the most amazing, suspenseful, enthralling and just plane bad-ass action and adventure films were made well before CGI. There are two types classic: there are the classic that have withstood the test of time (That is to say, an older movie that is pure bad-ass), and your instant classics — say, a movie made in recent memory, so immediately good that it becomes a classic. Whatever the case may be, just make sure you pop some popcorn, grab a taste beverage and kick on a classic.
So since A2 Classics began we have covered a lot of American work but today I would like to cover something a bit more foreign. If you recall, in December I wrote about the Jackie Chan movie, Who Am I which was produced and marketed mainly for a Hong Kong audience and therefore constitutes what Action/Adventure film lovers call a Hong Kong Cinema picture. Since the 70’s there have been a ton of great, and very underrated action, adventure and martial arts pictures coming out of the island city of Hong Kong. HK was almost single handily responsible for the influx in martial arts films within the united states. One of the HK cinemas biggest stars in the early 90’s was Jet Li and today we will be looking at one of his films, The Defender.
The Defender (as the American title goes), or its original title Zhong Nan Hai bao biao (Hong Kong title: The Bodyguard from Beijing) is a 1994 action flick starring the ever impressive and youthful Hong Kong martial arts master Jet Li as a bodyguard from the Beijing secret police, sent to Hong Kong to protect a beautiful young witness to a mob killing, played by Christy Chung (dream girl!!). Li turns her home into a high-security prison, complete with video cameras surveying every room, even her bedroom. Furious, Chung resists his efforts to protect her–until the threat to her life is made abundantly clear in a spectacular shopping mall shootout. As is natural under such circumstances, romance begins to bloom, much to the dismay of Chung’s lawyer boyfriend, who hired Li in the first place. Made in the last few years before the British province of Hong Kong was returned to the rule of mainland China, The Bodyguard from Beijing makes many (possibly anxious) jokes about the differences between the austere Communist bodyguard and the lackadaisical H.K. police.
As with most HK films you get a super combination of both weapons and martial arts through out. It makes for a really entertaining up and down ride with a crazed unseen individual in the drivers seat. I have to say that the use of weapons in this film is really well done to. Guns are used quite often, though mostly hand guns which makes for more skilled shoot outs. There is a scene in a large shopping mall involving Li and two lowly H.K. Police officers vs. a seemingly endless stream of pen and silenced 9mm toting assassins. Even in the climax of the film guns are used right up till the point of the ‘boss fight’ where we launch into Li’s familiar Wushu martial arts styling. In all, I would say that the action in this film is of the highest quality.
As with most H.K. flicks from this time period, The Defender is full of a spectacular strawberry red violence. Basically what I mean is that the blood that is frequently drawn through out the picture is so red that it is ridiculous. While gory and horrifyingly epic, the violence is almost of a fantasy nature. It helps ground the viewer a bit. The action is however very amazing and epic in scale and variety. Jet and the assassins use everything from flashlights to skateboards and the baddest baddie comes equipped with this super evil looking Red Army bayonet that creates a three sided, easily recognizable and sinister wound. And how often do you get to see venetian blinds used as an offensive weapon? It is simply marvelous.
Unfortunately I can’t say the same thing about the cinematography and the editing. While it captures exactly what needs to be captured and does include some pretty good scenes, I feel that a lot of the shots were a bit wonky and some of the picture could have been cut down. Its hard to explain with the H.K. film style being so different and possibly more advanced than american cinema from an action standpoint, but I just felt like the camera could have been positioned better and perhaps some different lighting effects used in various places. But hey, they are the film makers creating enjoyable flicks for big bucks and I am just a filmophile sitting at home wishing I could kick as much ass as Li and Chan, who am I to judge.
In any case the films character development played right to Li’s strengths as an actor. His character is quiet, shy and very good at what he does. That is the impression Li gives off in most his roles so it was almost fitting to see him play a character in The Defender that is just that type. You do however notice a somewhat dynamic nature to the what portrays his character toward the end. She is no longer just an assignment but more of a person and possibly a love interest.
Which brings me to the next point about why you should watch this movie. If the gunfights and car chases don’t entice you, or the awkward dinner scene then perhaps the fact that the year ‘2000 Hottest Woman in Asia,’ Christy Chung is playing the part of the female lead/body needing to be guarded opposite Jet Li. She is a beautiful, demanding, whirlwind next to Jet’s quiet and shy yet dangerously protective character. All I have to say is Night Gown and you gents should be running for the dvd shelves. She is beautiful, and classy while at the same time a tad naughty, and in real life she is Canadian. Right on, eh?!
One of the other great subjects touched on during The Defender was the whole Communist China vs. Hong Kong idea that you see display quite often. The up tight and very efficient Jet Li represents China where as the laid back and fun yet wildly irresponsible H.K. police officers represent, obviously Hong Kong. This movie was filmed right around the time where it was decided that the Chinese government would again take over Hong Kong so they clearly display this contrast between the Red China Bodyguard and the H.K. Police in the same situation and how working together they can accomplish the impossible.
I can honestly say that of all Jet Li films (and there are a ton out there), The Defender aka The Bodyguard from Beijing is one of my favorites. Please check it out as soon as you can and I promise you will not be disappointed. Take care and as always, kick back, relax and throw on a classic.