“Bodyguards and Assassins”: The revolution will be verbalized.

“Bodyguards and Assassins”: The revolution will be verbalized. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 New York Asian Film Festival.

For its first languid hour, the extremely talented cast of “Bodyguards and Assassins” lecture each other about the importance of the Chinese Revolution. No one speaks to anyone else; everyone just stands around giving speeches. Once they’ve made their point at great length, we’re treated to an extremely well-crafted and thrilling chase and fight sequence through the convincingly recreated streets of 1900s Hong Kong.

The two parts are so different, it’s hard to believe one director, Teddy Chan, made both of them. Watching this movie, I was reminded of the schemes my parents would dream up to get me to do my homework: sit through this boring lesson about Dr. Sun Yat-Sen and you can watch this awesome martial arts movie.

Sun is known as “The Father of Modern China” for his role in bringing about the end of the Qing Dynasty. In “Bodyguards and Assassins,” he’s on his way to Hong Kong for a strategy meeting with leaders from all over China, but the Emperor learns of his plans and sends his men to intercept and kill him.

Once Sun arrives, it’s up to a group of revolutionaries led by newspaper editor Chen (Tony Leung Ka-fai) and bankrolled by businessman Boss Li (Wang Xueqi) to distract and delay the assassins by drawing their attention for one hour. Chen and Li put together a “Dirty Dozen”-ish team of misfits to the suicide mission, including a former Shaolin monk turned tofu chef (former NBA player Mengke Bateer), a beggar who was once a martial arts master (Leon Lai) and a disgraced policeman (a sadly underutilized Donnie Yen).

06282010_body2.jpgAlong the way, the characters articulate their perspective on the revolution: how it will will create a world in which everyone is equal, and how it will use the sacrifices of an older generation in exchange for the well-being of the next, and how it requires the unity and national pride of all Chinese. Regardless of what you think about the message, the problem’s the painfully blunt way “Bodyguards and Assassins” delivers it. The chase sequence has moments of beauty and power which only make the earlier talking even more redundant. When people are sacrificing their lives for a cause, we don’t need them to tell us how important it is. Their actions tell us for them.

Even disregarding their very different tell-then-show strategies, the two halves of the movie make strange bedfellows. The first part aims for an almost documentary-style recreation of what life was like for these turn-of-the-century Hong Kong revolutionaries. But something tells me the second part — which includes free-running, wirework and a hobo with magical martial arts powers — deviates ever so slightly from the historical record. It would take someone with a cold, cold heart not to enjoy a film about kung fu revolutionaries, but it would also someone with a very patient mind not to be turned off by the rampant speechifying.

“Bodyguards and Assassins” screened Sunday at NYAFF as part of a double feature with “Development Hell,” which was billed as a documentary about “Bodyguards”‘ troubled production but is really more of a meandering tour through the trenches of Hong Kong cinema. There are plenty of details about previous iterations of the project that were cancelled are provided, but “Development Hell” is still frustratingly incomplete.

It ends on a cliffhanger — will the film ever get made? I wonder… — and is padded with tons of irrelevant anecdotes from industry types. I could tell you everything you need to know about “Development Hell” in three minutes; it takes the movie fifty-five. Essentially, it suffers the same problem as the film its chronicling: it overstays its welcome and overstates its importance.

“Bodyguards and Assassins” does not yet have US distribution. It plays Tuesday, June 29 at 1:00 PM at the Walter Reade Theater in New York City.

[Photos: “Bodyguards and Assassins,” China Film Group, 2009]


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.