J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Saigon Bodyguards: The Vietnamese Action-Buddy Movie

In Vietnam, the milk business is pretty cutthroat. During power struggles, you need a little private security muscle like the kind Trinh can offer. His partner Vien—not so much, but they are a package deal in Ken Ochiai’s Saigon Bodyguards (trailer here), which opens today in Metro-Los Angeles.

Trinh’s boss is always comparing him unfavorably to his late bodyguard father, but her expectations for Vien are drastically lower. They would really be on her list after all the damage they (Vien) caused on their last gig, but they have been specially requested for a sensitive assignment. The client happens to be Vien’s little sister Thi, who has climbed the corporate ladder at LeMilk. She and Trinh really ought to be an item, but Vien won’t give them a break.

After the death of LeMilk’s charismatic founder, his college student son Henry is supposed to be in line to succeed him, but board members are conspiring against him. True to form, Vien lets Henry get kidnapped at the first opportunity, but with a little fast thinking, he recruits dead-ringer street vendor Phuc to impersonate their client. From there, mayhem ensues, as Trinh and Vien race to rescue the heir, while the bad guys conspire to nab the spare.

As you might expect, the humor in Saigon Bodyguards is pretty rubber-faced and physical. Japanese filmmaker Ochiai brings none of the tragic elegance that so distinguished his masterful Uzumasa Limelight, but frankly, it would be out of place here. Instead, he keeps things snappy and lightweight. Along the way, he stages a number of entertaining fight scenes, especially those featuring Vietnamese popstar Diep Lam Anh as hench-vixen Kieu. He also does his best to capitalize on producer-star Kim Ly’s physique, which definitely has action star potential.

Kim Ly’s presence wears relatively well and he develops some appealing chemistry Chi Pu’s Thi. However, Thai Hoa becomes downright wearisome as the shticky Vien and Be Tran similarly tries our patience as the goofy Phuc. However, Kieu and Khuong Ngoc’s flamboyantly evil Dat chew plenty of scenery and throw down with the best of them.

In a way, it is nice to see a release this commercial and eager to please coming out of Vietnam. This is definitely a capitalist kind of film, with absolutely, positively no socialist realism. It is actually kind of fun, in a cheesy way. Recommended for those who find the From Vegas to Macau franchise too subtle and serious but the Lost In movies too pratfallish, Saigon Bodyguards opens today (2/3) at the brand new CGV Cinemas in Buena Park, Orange County.
(Stills courtesy of
CJ Entertainment)

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