Every decade we wait for another great martial artists to tread the footsteps of the indisputable master, Bruce Lee. Since he left our screens, there have been many pretenders to the throne, but few have even come close to displaying the same combination of skills, talent and on-screen presence. His son, the late Brandon Lee, showed so much promise but died tragically young. Of course we have some big names, like Jet Li and the amazing Jackie Chan, who have proven themselves in the industry, but there are also a few less well-known individuals who could have been serious contenders - most notably Mark Dacascos. Enter Tony Jaa, the star of the worldwide hit martial arts action movie, Ong-Bak and the next new hopeful for the title. Ong-Bak was breathtakingly awesome but since then audiences have been waiting patiently for Jaa to return to our screens. In the interim before his next major release we get this, The Bodyguard, starring Jaa's co-star from Ong-Bak, Petchtai Wongkamlau but - more interestingly - boasting a cameo from Jaa himself.
The movie kicks off exactly as it means to continue, with a huge gunfight and plenty of ludicrous - and positively comic - moments. The lead character is a rather unlikely bodyguard, who is capable of shooting two guns whilst spinning in mid-air but not as good at actually protecting his mark. After a frantic shootout resulting in many, many silly deaths, the bodyguard finds himself dishonoured and discharged and left to single-handedly take on and take down the gang that assassinated his mark, who are now targeting the son of the man he failed to protect. Along the way The Bodyguard manages to avoid a head-on mid-air collision between three BMWs, engages in a chaotic poolside shootout sporting nothing but a soup bowl over his private area and bump into Ong-Bak star Tony Jaa for a brief bit of kung fu in his local supermarket.
The Bodyguard has all the frivolity of Ong-Bak but none of the style, all of the silliness of a Jackie Chan movie but none of the fun. Petchtai Wongkamlau - the co-star from Ong-Bak - tries his best to carry the movie but simply does not have the screen presence of any of his counterparts. The movie is slapstick from start to finish with sporadic bouts of violence - nominally bloody shootouts - and bad language, seemingly to justify its high rating. Almost nothing is intended to be serious, despite how serious the protagonists take it and therein lies the rub because post-Team America, action-comedies need that extra edge of subtext to distinguish them from their ilk. It is so over-the-top that Jerry Bruckheimer would laugh at how absurd the action is. Perhaps there is a hidden context that I am unaware of - there seem to be plenty of in-jokes (including Jaa's verbal reference to Ong-Bak) but I think that the language barrier prevents a great deal of them from getting through to Western audiences.
At the end of the day, no movie is without any plus points and this is no exception. If you get a few beers and a few mates round - or better still return late after a night out - this is the perfect nonsense C-movie to stick on and laugh at. Unfortunately though, that is the only time you are likely to find it funny and, without that, it is largely unexceptional in any other respect.
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