The Defender, also known as Zhong Nan Hai bao biao (a.k.a. Bodyguard from Bejing), was originally released in 1994 and was released later in the United States. This Jet Li action vehicle has some great action moments hindered a bit by voiceovers and a slow action pace. Li plays Allan Hui Ching-yeung, also known as professional bodyguard John Chang who must protect a witness named Michelle Yeung, played by Christy Chung, who saw a crooked businessman commit murder.
The movie begins in China where John attends a rigorous training school for the elite “Defender” bodyguards. John’s mental and physical skills astound his teachers, but they stress that he must learn to “earn the trust of your client.” Of course, John receives a special mission, a standard and predictable storyline in many Chinese/Hong Kong action pics, where he travels to Hong Kong to protect the witness at her rich boyfriend’s mansion from a team of assassins hired by the murderer. Christy also receives protection from two local policemen, one slightly infatuated with her while the other larger one provides bits of comic relief and a weak storyline about gambling woes.
The Defender has many of the same aspects as the 1992 film, The Bodyguard starring Kevin Costner & Whitney Houston. The bodyguard must protect his client in a fancy mansion along with her son. The client receives a special jewel piece that can signal the bodyguard whenever she presses the button on it. The client begins to fall in love with the bodyguard after she initially treats him badly and doesn’t understand why he’s “ruining her life.” These aspects make you question the movie’s integrity and originality.
Director Corey Yuen (The Enforcer) has a good talent for staging the rapid action sequences. In an interior shopping mall sequence, Yuen uses slow motion and mirror tricks as the action spreads across the screen. Consequently, John unintentionally promotes more hatred from the assassin team when he kills the head assassin’s brother.
This storyline basically increases the tension between the “bad guys” and “good guys” to produce a more emotional “showdown” in the end, the best action sequence. Yuen keeps Li and the baddies close to the camera as John battles the head assassin and his gang.
Jet Li’s amazing quickness and gymnastic stuntwork can elevate any movie, especially when the story contains weak elements and bad editing/continuity between scenes. An glaring example from this movie would have to be a 5 second sequence that illogically progresses from horse betting by the pool to a dinner scene inside the mansion and finally to a beeper going off. You may also find yourself very perplexed by a scene with some children in a mall. Their behavior does draw out enemies and initiates an action sequence, but there are much better ways to progress the main storyline.
The heroic way John exits the movie stays true to his character, but some better closure on the murderer would have made a stronger plot. Why show a bad guy escaping justice? …especially in an action movie. The sequel I suppose. Recommended with reservations (**1/2 out of four stars).
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler