AKA: The Bodyguard
Director: Yue Song
Cast: Yue Song, Xing Yu, Li Yufei, Collin Chou, Chan Wai Man, Shang Tielong, Xu Dongmei, Yang Jun, Li Changhai, Jiang Baocheng, Yuan Wu
Running Time: 90 min.
Iron Protector, aka The Bodyguard, aka Super Bodyguard, is the sophomore effort of filmmaker and star Yue Song. I didn’t see his debut, The King of the Streets, and cannot comment on how far he’s come in front of and behind the camera in the four years between films. But I will say that he still has a long way to go.
Iron Protector is a modern day wuxia superhero movie which makes an attempt to recreate 90’s Hong Kong camp in a story about a guy with iron shoes. Our hero, played by Yue Song, is introduced to us doing a wicked split in the middle of a city square. We join Song as he’s being taunted by a bratty kid who’s pissing in public and teasing him with ice cream. Bad guys bust through, make the kid cry, and trample the ice cream cone. Song corners the bad guys, says something about ice cream (the only intended laugh in the film that I actually liked), and proceeds to kick ass. When justice is done, he meets the man the bad guys meant to kill. Then cars pull up and it’s like, hell yeah, Round 2. But instead, out steps Xing Yu, here playing an old buddy to our hero Yue Song. There’s hugging, there’s bizarre drinking habits, and there’s discussion about Iron Feet and Iron Fists. Seems Xing Yu is running a (likely criminal financed) bodyguard company and he offers our hero a job protecting the old man he saved. But really, who the old man wants to see protected is his daughter, played by Li YuFei.
Cue the camp! Our hero and our leading lady hate each other at first. He’s bored by her immaturity and she’s always looking for ways to get him in trouble. It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard. The two grow closer together when her life is threatened and our kung fu hero has to throw people through walls in order to save her. Their romance is solidified during a montage on the beach that’s filmed like a sappy music video. It’s hilarious but it’s not supposed to be. The montage even fits a bit of kung fu and some driving lessons in there to signify their growing attraction to one another. Our martial arts film has taken a brief detour into a romantic comedy for the deranged.
Chances are that you’re checking out Iron Protector to watch a guy with iron high tops kick ass and not because you wanna know if our hero will ever know love again after being betrayed in the past. I’m here to tell you that the action is… okay. There’s a stunt where Yue Song hurtles himself through the windshield of a moving vehicle that was very nice (and scary). But the fights aren’t special. We have to go 45 minutes into this 90 minute film before a fight sequence made me sit up and take notice (this sequence has villains put cartoonish leg locks on our hero and some Andre the Giant-looking guy throws him around like a ragdoll. It’s fun).
Director Song is too focused on showing contact with each blow that he cuts at almost every opportunity. Punch, cut, kick, cut, guy flops on floor, cut, punch, cut, man flies through wall, cut. It’s brutal, yes, but is it exciting? I didn’t think so, however opinions may vary on this. The problems with editing extend to dramatic scenes as well. It gets so bad in a couple spots that I was not always clear about what’s going on where and why. Example: there’s a bizarre cutaway to James Bond posters on the wall at some point, and that’s cool because, yay, James Bond, but I don’t even know whose wall these posters appear on. It’s maddening.
There is one sequence where Song is chasing people who’ve kidnapped Li. Song hops across rooftops like Tom Cruise or Jackie Chan are wont to do. I believe it’s Song the whole time, but I can’t be certain it’s him because the cameras never get close enough and the editing leaves the door open for stunt double switches. If director Yue Song really wanted to show off what movie star Yue Song was capable of, you’d think he’d have put the cameras in the right places. The end credits reveal plenty of blood, broken bones, and likely a few concussions, so I have no doubt that the cast put it all on the line. But because of sloppy cinematography, editing, and directing, much of that daring is lost on the viewer.
There is an entertaining, ridiculous sequence near the end of the film where Yue Song fights 50+ men singlehandedly that I think captures what he was trying to do better than the rest of the film. In this sequence, Song the director allows Song the movie star to do some fairly impressive stuff, and even fits in some weird, borderline Kung Fu Hustle-level moves just for fun. In so many ways, Iron Protector is like a kung fu superhero origin story, and it’s here that you see that more than almost anywhere else. But even this enjoyable action sequence suffers from poor filmmaking choices.
Oh, I really tried to like this one, guys. However, between the unintentional laughs, the poor editing, and messy direction, I just couldn’t. There might be a future for Yue Song as a leading man, but he needs to learn some things on other people’s film sets before returning to the director’s chair. He may not be the next Bruce Lee—that’s setting the sights too high, Yue—but he’s not without potential. With Iron Protector, I think director Yue Song failed the actor Yue Song; he was too close, too invested in his movie to notice how it was going wrong. Because of the film’s unintended laughs and anything goes attitude, Iron Protector has already earned some fans, and may become an accidental cult classic in the kung fu film world.
Side-note: I’m not one to hold a film’s trailers against a movie, because I know that the filmmakers aren’t always responsible for how a studio decides to market their movie. But I feel the need to touch on the boastful claims found in various Iron Protector trailers. The previews for this movie claim there are no visual effects or camera tricks utilized (there’s wire work and wire removal galore), it claims to revolutionize the art of kung fu (umm), it says it’s the coming of the new Bruce Lee (haha, okay, never heard that one before), and Iron Protector also boasts that it is “the best kung fu movie of the last 20 years.” That’s… a lot to live up to. And again, I would usually laugh it off and move on. It’s just that writer/director/choreographer/
Kyle Warner’s Rating: 5/10