The Bodyguard

January 24, 2011 at 2:12 am (4 Heads, Bodyguard, The) (, , , , )

The Bodyguard – 1973 – Japan

Sonny Chiba is best known for The Street Fighter, Return of the Street Fighter, Sister Street Fighter, and The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge—also the 1977 Golgo 13 film. While Bruce Lee has elegance and Jackie Chan has wackiness, Chiba has ferocity, savagely busting teeth and jabbing eyeballs. But The Bodyguard’s clumsy, unimaginative, and anti-climactic fights are a poor example. Chiba fan or not, skip it.

In the U.S. release’s special opening, Ezekiel 25:17 is venomously quoted. Following is a kung-fu montage including a fat dude shattering a stack of a dozen bricks with his head while “Viva! Chiba!” is chanted. Then two Americans brutally pound challengers at a dojo while casually comparing Bruce Lee and Sonny Chiba.

Once that’s out of the way, the proper flick starts. Chiba (acting as himself) stops a plane hijacking, has a press conference where he punches a Coke bottle in half, and declares war on all Mafia drug dealers. Set in Tokyo, The Bodyguard chronicles Chiba’s battle with La Cosa Nostra (played by Japanese men) and other incongruous gangs of pimps and pushers, plus a mysterious(ly unattractive) lady. Chiba batters gun-wielding thugs through crosses and double crosses until the meaningless conclusion where everyone dies in a crime-does-not-pay ending.

The day before I saw this, I watched Rumble in the Bronx where Jackie Chan water-skis on his feet and bursts a hovercraft by jousting it in a Lamborghini. Chan’s sense of outrageous fun is triumphant and Rumble in the Bronx is a tour de force. In many ways, The Bodyguard is equally ludicrous, but lacking the style and humor to give it purpose. As hijackers swarm his plane, Chiba smokes and reads the paper. When a hijacker yanks the paper away, Chiba growls stoically “Say your prayers, fat man,” and goes ape in a gory battle. One of the flick’s crime bosses is a chubby hatchet-wielding pimp with a fur vest and a bandolier of shotgun shells. In a strange scene he nonchalantly eats the hair off the severed head of a dog (?). And I’m taking for granted Chiba’s ultra-powered punch that makes dudes spew blood and die in a single blow. While these details are awesome, their haphazard delivery strips them of any weight and their schlockiness seems accidental.

That’s not damning. All kung-fu flicks are schlocky. This goes far to enhance watchability. But despite schlock-extreme, The Bodgyguard is pretty boring. The fights are short and unenergetic and the few stunts are barely dramatic tumbles. Shaky camerawork and awkward editing ruins what action there is. Good kung-fu fights utilize simple compositions with minimal editing for an unspoiled view of the choreography. Crappy kung-fu fights (i.e. American kick boxing flicks) try to obscure their plain choreography with angular close-ups and jumpy edits. The Bodyguard fills the latter category—a shame since Chiba is more than athletically capable.

The Bodyguard has some merits. There’s violence and one-liners aplenty, a smorgasbord of sleazy criminal stereotypes, and an interesting setting—a corrupt U.S. military base in Tokyo. But ultimately, the stagnant shootouts and one-sided fights lack drama. There is much better kung-fu out there (including Chiba’s other flicks). Those not jaded might find some laughs, but why bother?

Rating: 4/10 Shrunken Heads. You will not chant “Viva! Chiba!”.

3/27/2017 Update:

Based on how crazy it is, The Bodyguard should be a lot more fun. Sonny Chiba fights while smoking. His sister is named Monkey. A woman is tortured by being put in a really steamy shower. Assassins hide inside a sofa. It’s too bad that the film’s fight scenes are clumsy and its plot makes no sense. Why does Sonny Chiba declare war on all drug dealers and then knowingly help one?

The Bodyguard is also really sleazy. Its violence and sexuality are pandering, and every woman is molested at least once. Much of the film is set on an American army base in Japan, and the American soldiers are depicted as drug abusers and rapists.

The Bodyguard’s opening scene (set in America) has some nice footage of 42nd Street in New York.

Rating: 4/10 Shrunken Heads. At one point in the film, two Americans debate the merits of Sonny Chiba and Bruce Lee. Surprisingly, they both agree that Bruce Lee is better. Apparently, “he has more speed and… science.”

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