Martial arts-gunplay actioner Shadowguard: The Blood Bond Saga is startlingly bad. This is C-grade execution of a B-grade action premise, meaning it should be viewed as 3 a.m. cable action fodder and little more. Produced and co-written by martial arts cinema guru Bey Logan, Shadowguard marks the directorial debut of actor and Terminator veteran Michael Biehn, though Biehn has spoken on record that he was not involved in the film’s post-production. Presumably, that means Shadowguard isn’t Biehn’s fault but let’s just blame everyone involved. Film is a collaborative effort, right?
Besides directing, Biehn stars as John Tremayne, a washed up special forces operative hanging out in the fictional nation Purma. Tremayne only wants to be left alone in his crappy jungle hut, but just when he thought he was out, they pull him back in. He’s one of only five people in Purma with a rare blood type that can save the Bagwun (Ye Xiao-Keng), a visiting spiritual leader whose presence so offends the rebel PLM forces, led by the explosively angry Lompoc (Simon Yam), that they’ve tried to kill him. Without a blood transfusion, the Bagwun will die in 12 hours, and the PLM tries to complete the job by offing all the potential donors. Last on their list: John Tremayne.
Not if fighting female Deva (Phoenix Valen of Beach Spike) has anything to say about it. The Bagwun’s personal bodyguard, Deva immediately seeks out Tremayne, who doesn’t care about helping out the Bagwun because he’s all jaded and crap. But with Deva’s help, Tremayne rediscovers his humanity and learns to live again. Or something. Shadowguard has a blazingly generic story with shallow ideas and hackneyed situations. Still, B-grade genre movies aren’t known for their stories, and usually compensate with action and red-blooded macho posturing. The film delivers on both counts, though the actual quality of those two elements should be questioned.
Cutting to the chase, Shadowguard is disappointing. The script does little to dress up the unremarkable story, using lousy banter and pseudo-spiritual musings in place of actual dialogue. Acting is inconsistent; Michael Biehn overdoes the intensity, while Phoenix Valen speaks in a credibility-killing lisping monotone – though she does handle her martial arts scenes competently. Supporting actors butcher their lines and Simon Yam chews the scenery, consisting of colorless exteriors and sparsely-decorated sets. Casting ranges from poor to merely okay with a few strange choices. Fashion model Emma Pei is miscast as a too-tall, too-skinny PLM deathbringer, and Michael Wong appears to fly a helicopter and dub his own voice.
Action should be where Shadowguard shines, but the results are only so-so. Action director Fan Siu-Wong’s solid choreography is undone by bad editing, with actor close-ups awkwardly inserted between punches and kicks. Gunfights are routine, except a final hallway shootout that astounds in its boredom. Staging can be lazy; multiple times characters are surprised by people simply popping into frame. Dialogue scenes are lifeless and edited into a shot-reverse-shot tedium. Also, the script shows a misogynist streak, with characters insulting women or frequently calling them prostitutes. There’s even an attempted rape during a fight scene. Having fighting females somewhat offsets the filmmakers’ bad taste, though a lot of the sexist dialogue is passed off as humor from the “good” characters.
Budget here appears small, so if anyone wants to blame Shadowguard’s deficiencies on that, they’re welcome to. Assuming there was little money and few resources, it may be okay that the end product comes out looking like a YouTube film shot in the hills on the weekends. Still, one former attraction of Hong Kong Cinema – or any genre cinema where budgets are small – is that the filmmakers are able to do more with less, using creative action and energetic style to cover up a film’s low budget or bad basics. Shadowguard makes the mistake of taking its generic story too seriously, attempting too much with too little, and not realizing anything in a creative or inspired manner. There were rumblings before of a Shadowguard sequel, but hopefully nobody involved with this first film remembers.