China and Hong Kong: Bodyguards and Assassins

Bodyguards and Assassins is an action movie released during Christmas in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. As a patriotic film, it was originally set to release in October for celebrating the 60th year anniversary of PRC but deferred until the end of 2009. In contrast with the Founding of a Republic! which spotlights on national heroes, the movie features on a number of grassroots characters, who know nothing about revolution but choose to sacrifice their lives for their country. The story offers a diverse readings and interpretations on the Chinese history and politics.  

The comment made by Sun Yat-sen, the father of the Republic of China, in the movie has been quoted widely on the Internet, it said:


If you want to pursue the happiness of civilization, you must first undergo the pains of civilization,and this kind of pain is called revolution.

Sheng Haifang was overwhelmed by the line:


I should say this is the best interpretation on revolution I have ever seen. It makes me shake hands with the word “revolution” to some extent. I can hate revolution and oppose Marxism, but for revolutionaries, for those who die for, or are even devoured by Marxism, I pay respect to them. What I feel, what I know, what I think and what I enjoy all come from those who strive for China’s tomorrow in the past century. They can be great, shallow, stupid, selfless, despicable, smart, successful or defeated, they can be leaders or sinners of ages, I can judge them, but I am also in awe of them and grateful to them.

However, Sheng also sighed at the fading enthusiasm of the contemporary, and the misuse of the revolutionary vocabularies.


We can no longer experience the passion in that age, because we don’t have the environment for feeling that passion. Revolution, democracy, freedom, Marxism, republic, communism, great harmony, these are the words that were once used to awaken rationalism, modernism, individualism, humanity and new age. However, these words are also used to awaken violence and consolidate power, to trample on rights and twist human nature, and to homogenize people.

Qingnianganjiang compared Bodyguards and Assassins with the 60th anniversary tribute The Founding of a Republic in his blog entry “Late Salute”, and pointed out that the political message in the film is deviated from the official ideologue:


Bodyguards and Assassins won’t preach me big ideas and force me to wash my brain and accept the official ideologue. I’ve suffered enough in the past 30 years and am afraid of brainwashing. People in the movie had to first suffer the pains of civilization in order to pursue the happy future of Chinese civilization. China has walked a painstaking path to liberty and civilization. We should pay respect to those who died on the path and should not forget them due to the changes of ruling power in the history. 

Tubingenmujiang also compared the two movies but had a different reading. The blogger believed that both movies reproduced the same old myth of “Leader comes first” :


In my opinion, Bodyguards and Assassins also tries to create a myth – the myth of a rising nation state. The film, in essence, is another The Founding of a Republic, but the latter targeted at the Mainland China market, while Bodyguards and Assassins created a greatest historical common ground across the Taiwan Straits. As the centenary of the founding of China Republic is approaching, so I suppose Bodyguards and Assassins is aiming at the Golden Horse Awards.


Bodyguards and Assassins, against the background of a chaotic historical moment, reproduces a myth of a national savior. The director, Chan Tak Sum, is very witty. He did not set up a huge monument for the god-like feature, but focused on the ordinary people (the merchant, beggar, and gangs) who chose to sacrifice for the revolutionary leader. The movie reflects the political and social landscape of old Hong Kong, and wins the tears of common people with the myth of common people's goodwill to “let the leaders go first”.

1 comment

  • Jon

    I strongly disagree with Tubingenmujiang’s interpretation of the “Leader First” mentality. It is true that so many characters give their lives for Dr. Sun, but what is more important than Dr. Sun himself is what he represents. He *is* the leader of the movement in which they believe, but while he carries the mantle of this idea, he, like those who sacrifice themselves, is a part of something greater than himself.

    Let us not forget that Sun’s life was also at risk for the entire first half of the gauntlet. Only through his legitimate risk was there hope for what so many of them had come to believe in.

    And, c’mon, let’s be honest: This is the most subversive “big” movie to come out of China in years. I can only wonder what made it on to the cutting room floor, and just how livid this is going to make certain individuals on the Mainland.

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