Plot Outline: Chiba, a popular Japanese television star returns to his homeland of Japan after a trip to New York and holds a press conference. He announces that he plans to start his own one man war against the drug industry. He makes an offer to anyone who can give him information that he will protect them as a bodyguard. The next day Chiba is approached by a woman who says she has important information, but is hesitant to fill him in on what the information is. What secret does this woman hide and can Chiba protect her?
Being both a Sonny Chiba fan as well as a Tarantino fan, it was only a matter of time before I finally wrapped my hands around the film that inspired Jules’ Ezekiel speech from Pulp Fiction. Although The Bodyguard doesn’t live up to The Streetfighter films, I definitely see what Tarantino saw in it. It’s a fun film, to be sure. While it may not live up to some expectations I had for it personally, it has Sonny Chiba doing his tough guy thing so what’s not to like? Well, to be honest there’s quite a bit not to like but I’ll get to that shortly!
If you’ve read about this film before watching then you already know about the shameless and exploitative introduction for the film. Well, technically it’s not the very opening to the movie. We’re actually teased by a much better introduction than we ultimately receive. The immediate start to the movie is a scene outside of a church where some mobsters are gunned down in a very bloody fashion. When watching for the first time, you are immediately enthused because there’s no better way to start a Sonny Chiba flick than with a few pints of blood! However, things go sour in the very next scene and this is where the controversy arises. It appears that some karate dojo in New York somehow got the distributing rights to the movie and decided to pimp out their dojo at the beginning of the film. I assume that is what happened at least, because anything else just wouldn’t make sense. So someone shot this extra footage that features a couple of karate students practicing (including one who vaguely resembles veteran actor Harry Dean Stanton) and then talking about Sonny Chiba. The students essentially do their best to write themselves into the movie. They make comments about the Mafia don getting shot, and talk about Chiba’s character heading back to Tokyo. It is utterly ridiculous and such an obvious attempt at selling their school. Since I already had knowledge of this sequence I didn’t let it bother me, but if I didn’t know about it I can imagine the nerd-rage I would have felt. It’s a disrespectful thing to do, no matter what the film may be. It’s like me releasing Battle Royale but adding additional footage of me talking about the B.R. act.
Although the beginning is terrible and devoid of any respect for cinema in the lowest regards, it’s still forgettable enough so that you can actually watch the rest of the movie if you don’t take it too serious. Even without that tacked on beginning, I would be hard pressed to believe this is a very serious film. Sonny Chiba vows to protect anyone who wants to come forward about the drug traffickers currently destroying the moral fabric of Japan, which is silly enough of a concept to rest your entire film upon. It’s also quite the arrogant role for any character to essentially start a war with an entire legion of traffickers on the opposing side. The film ultimately leaves so many unanswered questions that it comes futile in trying to understand it all. Is Chiba playing himself? I know he’s called Chiba in the film, but is he really playing himself? Was that just another stupid ploy by the distributors? I have no idea. If the film isn’t missing any scenes cut by the distributors, then the film is really barely holding itself together. So many loose ends and unexplained facts, one can’t help but wonder what exactly happened here.
So far it probably sounds like I’m being negative about the film on the whole, but I’m not. The Bodyguard might not be a classic, but it’s fun enough that it comes pretty close. The karate on display is of the usual ‘not pretty but totally effective‘ Sonny Chiba variety, and although not very frequent it is actually done fairly well. Same goes for the violence. One of the more memorable, and certainly goriest, moments comes from a scene where a man actually shoots a person’s arm off with his gun. It’s not really that graphic mind you, but it’s a pretty bizarre image that sticks in your head. The film also has a very brisk pace to it, something that definitely helps since if it were bogged down too much it wouldn’t work. The plot almost tries to bog the film down, the double crosses and character alignments adds a lot of confusion to the film, but to be perfectly honest I quit following the plot about halfway through. It is pretty predictable and ridiculous anyway, so you might as well just zone out and watch it for what it offers. Fun, camp and the charisma of Sonny Chiba.