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Obviously, as the title implies, Jet Li’s character is a Communist Chinese, and in a weird twist of plot machinations which I am still at a lost to understand, is either requested or ordered to proceed to British-controlled Hong Kong to protect Cheung’s character, a big-name singer/famous person.
Jet Li’s character has the improbable distinction of possessing (at least in this re-mastered American-dubbed version) the name of “John Chang.” You should know by now that every Chinese hero who appears dubbed in the American market is named either “John” or “Johnny”, and every Chinese woman will invariably get the moniker “Bai Ling” or “Mai Ling” or a combination of the two. It’s called laziness, folks.
“Bodyguard” is a slight departure for Li, who is known for his costume kung fu period martial arts films like “Fong Sai Yuk” and the immensely popular “Once Upon a Time in China” series. In bit of foregoing expectations, “The Bodyguard from Beijing” is relatively easy on the bloodsport and martial arts that one experts from a Li movie. In this way, “Bodyguard” is a little disappointing. Yes, Jet does use hand-to-hand martial arts, but for the most part he relies on a handgun. The fact that Li’s character holds his weapon in the oddest way makes the concept of a kickless Li even more, well, odd.
In pursuit of protecting his famous charge, Li ends up shooting 30 or so would-be assassins, and kills about 20 or so in a mall alone. Now that’s an impressive bodycount. There’s also a thrilling battle in and around the singer’s house that goes on for quite some time. Overall, it’s a decent actioner, but not anywhere near the improvisational adrenaline charge one gets from your standard Li costume epic.
The movie’s story is a Chinese rendition of “The Bodyguard” with Kevin Costner as the reluctant bodyguard and Whitney Houston as his spoiled and uncooperative charge. In fact, the movie is almost a direct scene by scene translation, everything from the spoiled charge who refuses protection and goes out of her way to piss him off, to the mole-in-our-midst plot point. In this case, I must admit to liking the American version better, and I never thought I’d say that in this lifetime.
On the plus side, it was interesting to see Li in a suit and tie and in the contemporary world instead of the usual period villages and landscapes that he’s known for in his earlier films. I wish, though, that he had picked a better movie to shed his wuxia costume. “The Bodyguard From Beijing” is far from Li’s best, and if anything, it’s one of many average-to-slightly-bad films he was known to make in the ’90s.
Corey Yuen (director) / Gordon Chan, Kin Chung Chan (screenplay)
CAST: Jet Li …. Allan Hui/John Chang
Christy Chung …. Michelle Yeung
Kent Cheng …. Charlie Leung Kam-Po