Magnificent Bodyguards Review
Magnificent Bodyguards sees Jackie Chan as Lord Ting Chung hired to escort a seriously ill man through the mountains. At first, he looks to be very much alone. A short look through the warriors employed by his mistress tells him that no one is worth taking on so perilous a journey into the mountains. Until, that is, he is joined by deaf swordsman Chang (Tien), who is a good and loyal friend to Chung, and a pair of female twins, who are as alike as they are deadly. Leaving for a retreat, Chang and Chung head for a remote village in the mountains where they can rest but are witness to a fight between a swordsman (Siu-Lung Leung) and a gang of bandits. These brigands scarper on learning of the man's reputation for skinning folk alive and with their party complete, they begin their journey into the wilderness. Nothing prepares them for the battles and treachery they will face along the way but the further they go, the more they learn that the greatest danger has been with them all along.
The days of 3D have generally passed. There are exceptions, of course, including the third film in the Spy Kids series of movies or the recent Barbie And The Magic Of Pegasus animated film but the days of wearing red and green glasses and staring hopefully at a cinema screen have all but passed. Perhaps a new dawn of 3D cinema awaits us with recent announcements by James Cameron but, for now, we're firmly in the furrow between the near death of one technology and the arrival of another. Yet the films live on, easily noted by their having things dangle near the front of the screen or their having arrows, swords and other weapons be thrown in the direction of the audience. In the case of Magnificent Bodyguards, which was originally designed to be in 3D, Bo staffs, katanas and, best of all, ninjas are thrown or do swing in the direction of the screen in such a way that, if they weren't over so quickly, would no doubt have wowed all those who'd seen it during its 3D release.
Actually, Magnificent Bodyguards badly needed a gimmick like 3D to spice up a rather dull story. A tale as slim as this needs a huge presence on the screen to make it feel larger than life and with an early appearance by Jackie Chan, that's exactly what it doesn't have. In fact, what it needs is John Wayne. A scene early in the film sets the pace and the nature of the fighting. Like all too many martial arts films, the fight in which his character proves his mettle is a flurry of swords, feet and fists out of which everyone emerges unscathed and with Chan, who's the star of the film, somewhat lost in the muddle. The next scene is no better with Chan again getting lost amidst ninjas and a grumbling group of warriors who have not be selected for the treacherous journey ahead. Later still, the film becomes even more confusing with the Chang and his men confronting Native American warriors in the mountains, flying men, evil Shaolin monks and, of course, a villain, like so many before him, with long white hair and beard.
Unfortunately, as much as this was a film made for Jackie Chan, he's very far from being the main attraction in this film. Granted, I'm not much of a fan of Jackie Chan - you'll get tired of me saying that I like my martial arts to be brutal when on screen - but Siu-Lung Leung is a much more enjoyable presence on the screen, particularly when he's threatening to skin people alive, something that, sadly, we don't get to see. Come certain scenes, though, and Magnificent Bodyguards is a lot of fun, particularly as they battle killer monks and the many traps they've laid. At that moment, the decision to bring along a deaf warrior suddenly seems like a wise one. However, it all ends with a revelation or two, one of which concerns the identity of the sick man within the sedan with the other being why we needed so much time in the company of the old woman of Mar Po Inn. And Jackie Chan gets to say, "I must avenge my father's death and rid the world of crooks like you!" It's a muddled little film and certainly very far from Chan's best. With its many inserts of Chan and his friends walking through forest parks, this is a cheaply produced film that lacks either comedy or great martial arts. A Jackie Chan film like that isn't much of a Jackie Chan film.
Apparantly, this is another Ultrabit Edition but you really couldn't tell by looking at the screen. Again, there's a very noticeable wobble in the opening credits and which makes irregular appearances throughout the film. There is a little print damage but what's really noticeable is how bad this looks. There's no more detail in this print than there would be in a VHS issue of it, with the film smoothing out much of the grain until things become very soft and almost unfocused. Colours are also very washed out, which isn't helped by the film choosing, with the exception of the clothes worn by the main cast, to use shades of brown and grey in its palette while director Lo Wei either used a 60W bulb to light the nighttime scenes or they're very poorly presented on this DVD. All of these problems come together in a final scene in a dimly lit forest in which you'll be hard pressed to tell what's human and what's wood. Squinting at the screen helps but a little.
Whilst there's none of the phasing sounds that were present on The Protector, the soundtracks to Magnificent Bodyguards, being a choice of Cantonese DD5.1, English DD5.1 or Cantonese DD2.0 Mono, are brittle things with too much treble, slightly too much bass and barely anything in between. This is most noticeable in the slapping sounds that accompany each strike and which were added much later by a robust foley artist. Each punch in the film comes with a harsh crack that no more resembles the sound of fist striking flesh than it does a jazz band. Add in the whooshing noises that draw one's attention to the 3D effects and it's not an entirely pleasant listen. There are English subtitles but enabling them at the same time as listening to the English dub track can be a confusing affair as there are inconsistencies between the two.
Commentary: Andrew Staton is back for this commentary on Magnificent Bodyguards. Unfortunately, there's less evidence of his skills as a mimic this time - specialist impression being whiny film buffs who don't like martial arts movies - he sets his stall out from the very beginning, being his making a sturdy defence of this film, the odd turns that it takes in its plotting and Jackie Chan's choice of wardrobe and hair. Forunately, he's very good on the making of this film with a no-nonsense style of speaking that gets quickly to the heart of the matter. He's also entertaining to listen to and there are very few experts on these films that I'd rather listen to for the length of its running time, particularly in hearing his enthusiasm for the film, something that I don't share, come across so well in his commentary.
Trailers: Hong Kong Legends are included trailers for some of their other releases, including City Hunter, My Lucky Stars, Police Story and Project A.