“A bombastically good time”
More like Bodies under extreme physical exertion. This film has everything. Guns, fistfights, Christmas, air ducts, maniacal villains, walkie talkies, white tank tops, glass smashing, metal crunching, bones squelching, bodies flinging, explosions exploding — well, I should say it has everything from a description of Die Hard.
This is not entirely a surprise, considering it’s helmed by Renny Harlin, the director of the impeccably named Die Hard 2: Die Harder. And its references do not stop with John McTiernan’s genre redefining classic; everyone from John Woo (with a shot-perfect recreation of Hard Boiled) to Tarantino to Jackie Chan gets their action-packed work borrowed from here and there. Though to its credit, Bodies at Rest has a commendably original setup.
The film takes place on one very intense Christmas Eve, when a record-breaking rainstorm forces the citizens of Hong Kong to stay indoors overnight. At the city hospital, a stoic and assured doctor (Nick Cheung) and cheerful young nurse (Zi Yang) stay after hours, swapping stories about their aspirations and day-to-day work in the hospital morgue. Suddenly, they find they must defend themselves and their workplace when a mysterious trio of brutes breaks in to retrieve an incriminating bullet from one of the morgue’s recently received stiffs. From there, Harlin directs the action with clear talent, with high-flying camerawork and eye-popping choreography coming at the audience from every angle. The camera flips, turns, swerves, and lurches as Cheung and Yang fight their way through the thugs’ various attacks. These initially mild-mannered workers prove remarkably adept at flinging fists and bodies around and against things, even as the criminal ringleader (Richie Jen) comes up with dastardly ways of trying to bend the doctors to his will. Some moments of breakneck intensity might make one wonder where these medical professionals learned all this fight choreography, but realism is quite clearly not Harlin’s intention.
One wonders, then, after an hour of body-flinging, metal crunching and line-screaming, what Harlin’s intention actually is. The film has action and bombastic combat to spare, but it all just happens without much reason or tension. The doctors fight, they get away, they get caught, they fight again, they come up with plans, they get away, they get caught — it goes on in this manner for essentially the whole time. Some amusing uses of the hospital facilities are highlights of this otherwise fairly monotonous story — especially when the doctors use various chemical reactions to fight off the baddies with the power of science. Additionally, one sequence in particular, involving some of the most insane action editing I’ve seen, had the audience not only gasping but laughing out loud and on the edge of their seat at once. The script, written by David Lesser, shows a real knack for action storytelling in this moment and precious few others — unfortunately this spark of inventiveness rarely returns to the screen.
This film simply packs in too much cheesy extravagance and not enough variety or intrigue. While it is a bombastically good time if you are into smash-em-ups, Bodies at Rest achieves little outside of a few good moments, and for your time, you are likely better off seeking out a different Hong Kong action flick that handles its style and substance better. Maybe feast your eyes on an all-time great of the genre like Hard Boiled, if you haven’t already.
Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller