Bullet Points: The Defender
This was one of the first Jet Li films that I owned way back in the mid 1990’s and while it is a decent movie it is nowhere close the best that Li has to offer. The plot is simple enough not to draw away from the action but the action isn’t good enough to make up for the simple story. Does that make sense at all? Either way, now that The Defender is streaming on Netflix you have no reason not to spend the next 90 minutes enjoying some young Jet Li martial artistry.
The Gist: John (Jet Li) is a member of an elite Chinese bodyguard team called “The Defenders”. He is sent to Hong Kong to protect a witness to a crime who is being targeted by the guilty party and his army of thugs. It’s up to John and a couple of dim-witted police officers to protect Michelle (Christy Chung) and to stop the onslaught of assassins who are trying to destroy her life.
The Cast: The fight scenes are enjoyable enough, although too few and far between to be great, but Li rarely misses in his fights and the shoot’em nature of the film won’t disappoint too many. Li is really the only character who isn’t distracted. The rest of the lot are either too focused on women, gambling, or revenge to effectively do their job. Maybe that is why Li wins in the end. Well, he accomplishes his mission, I guess. The girl does leave him with a serious case of “blue balls” to take back to China with him. Michelle is the Whitney Houston character but she goes from having the Diva attitude towards John to wanting his stank all over her. Not exactly a strong female role.
Your classic Fat democracy-loving Hong Kong policeman and straight-laced Chinese badass.
The Villain: The opening of the film sees Jet Li’s “John” taking place in what has to be the most hardcore simulation in the history of simulations. It really does beat anything that that he faces throughout the rest of the film. Li’s job as a “Defender” means that the woman he is protecting really serves no purpose to him other than a paycheck. Her beef comes from witnessing a crime and the bounty on her head is carried out by a bunch of faceless villains that we really have no need of being introduced to. They serve their purpose as the punching bags that they are and the only person of note is the main baddie at the end whose brother was shot in the face earlier by John. The movie makes the police out to be absolutely inept and without John these worthless villains would have no doubt killed the lovely Michelle.
I don’t know what that says but this guy is a real dick.
The Action: Like with any Jet Li film, the action is where the true enjoyment comes from. There aren’t many people lining up to give this movie ‘Best Picture’ or ‘Best Screenplay’ awards and that isn’t what you should expect. What you should expect, however, is to see Jet Li kick the crap out of a bunch of random, nameless bad guys who may have been the same three stuntmen over and over. What I’m saying is that it doesn’t really matter who it is after the girl or really why they’re after her at all, the important thing is that Jet Li has a very specific set of skills that are designed to protect her and to violently hurt, kill, or maim anyone trying to kill his client. This isn’t Li’s best work in terms of action but the scenes are peppered in just enough to not make the movie feel too slow. I would have liked at least one more small action piece but the same could be said for pretty much any Jet Li film. My favorite part was when the fat cop attacked the bad guys with his friend’s dead body. What are friends for?
A little grainy but still a sold actioner from Li and friends.
Take it Home:
- Favorite quote: “For me, the battle is always on.”
- What a maneuver: Jet Li hits a gut-wrench suplex on some unsuspecting guy.
- Aim for center mass: Many action stars have fired their weapons from the hip; Rambo, Braddock, any Arnold film, but Jet Li fires his pistol from the hip like a champ.