Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Rebel (Dòng máu anh hùng)

After one year of waiting, Vietnam's biggest box-office hit (and also first action movie ever) finally comes to Canada on DVD! With a budget of about $3 million US for this film, Vietnam has no lessons to receive from other Asian countries and even less Hollywood on how to shoot action sequences. However, lower your expectation, because The Rebel is not a masterpiece like Hero, Ran or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon when you look at the script and the acting.

1922: Vietnam is under French colonial rule and anti-French rebellions occurs nationwide. To deal with that, the French use Vietnamese agents, like Cường (Johnny Nguyễn), to track down the leader of a nationalist movement. However, as Cường gradually becomes inspired by Thúy's (Ngô Thanh Vân), the daughter of the leader in question, patriotism after an encounter he fights back against the French and Sỹ (Dustin Nguyễn), his superior. Nevertheless, Sỹ follows Cường and Thúy, because he has a hunch that they will lead him to the leader of the rebels.

Obviously, the film shouldn't bore you because its pace is quicker than that of Tran Anh Hung's movies. Besides, The Rebel's script doesn't resort to mindless plot twists. All in all, we're left with a simple storyline meant to be used as a feel-good movie. However, since the scriptwriters seemed to be in quite a rush, the development of the characters is a little bit sloppy. In fact, the scriptwriters give us the feeling that all they want to do is to lead us as quickly as possible to the movie's finale. Unfortunately, by doing so, they leave us with a relatively incomplete character development, because, for example, Cường's change of allegiance is too sudden. After all, we don't get to know much about Cường's own critique of the French colonial system or even his perception on Vietnamese nationalists (the same thing can be said about the Vietnamese villains in the movie).

Although the script is fairly good, the performance of the cast is a little bit unequal. Indeed, those who play our two heroes, who are Johnny Nguyễn (The Protector) and Ngô Thanh Vân, sometimes display stiff emotions in normal scenes of conversations despite all their efforts. In short, this is when you see their obvious lack of experience for playing scenes that are supposed to be dramatic and to convince us about the chemistry between them (if there's any). As strange as it might look, those who play the bad guys, be they French or Vietnamese, manage to be more convincing, especially Dustin Nguyễn (Heaven & Earth). Well, from what see, it must not be that hard to play a caricatured villain!

Anyway, if the unequal performance dismayed you a little bit, well, there's always the action scenes if you like entertainment. In fact, for us, Canadians (if not Westerners), this is a rare occasion to see Việt Võ Đạo, a spectacular and beautiful martial arts that is rarely seen here. Of course, what would a Việt Võ Đạo movie be without those strangling scissor kicks!

Finally, let's hope that the film will at least entertain you with its fight scenes (especially those at the beginning and the end). Although the development of the characters is thin, the actors do their best to play them. So, to describe The Rebel in a few words, it's a simple, entertaining and a little bit clumsy mix of martial arts and historical drama that hopefully isn't stupid. So, The Rebel is neither a masterpiece nor a trash.

Rating: 3/5

The Rebel
Vietnam (2007)
Length: 104 minutes
Genre: Action drama
Scriptwriters: Johnny Nguyễn, Charlie Nguyễn and Dominic Pereira
Director: Charlie Nguyễn
Starring: Johnny Nguyễn, Ngô Thanh Vân, Dustin Nguyễn, Nguyễn Thắng and Stéphane Gauger

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