Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Rebel

Director: Truc 'Charlie' Nguyen
Writers: Johnny Nguyen, Truc 'Charlie' Nguyen, Dominic Pereira
Producers: Johnny Nguyen, Jimmy Pham
Starring: Johnny Nguyen, Thanh Van Ngo, Dustin Nguyen
MPAA Rating: NR
Running time: 103 min
Country of Origin: Vietnam
read my spoiler disclaimer

reviewed by Andrew James
at Toronto After Dark Festival

      When it comes to straight up martial arts films, they generally aren't my thing. But when a film is released touting itself as the most expensive film ever from Vietnam, it must be worth a look-see. Couple that with producer/writer/star Johny Nguyen in the lead and you've got a picture that is nearly irresistible.

      Nguyen plays Le, a young secret service agent working with the French in their occupation of Vietnam during the 1920s. He and his partner, Sy, are responsible for the safety of various French officials. Of course he is seen as a traitor to his people by many. With this occupation, a small rebel force has grown in strength and is determined to assassinate various leaders of The French occupying government. During an assassination attempt, Le kills a young boy and begins to have second thoughts about loyalty. When the torture of a suspect goes beyond boundaries, Le chooses to help the girl escape and becomes part of the rebel faction, becoming almost immediate enemies with his ex-partner, Sy.

      Of course the stand out in this movie are the fight scenes. The martial arts sequences are extremely well choreographed and some of the take down moves and high kicking action sequences are almost breathless. This should be really no surprise as Johny Nguyen is no stranger to the martial arts motion pictures. He's fought with both Jet Li and Tony Jaa while also doing stuntwork in several major, Hollywood motion pictures such as Jarhead, Serenity and Collateral. Though his face may not be recognizable, audiences know him best as the guy in the Spiderman costume in Sam Raimi's first two movies.

      But this is far from being just another martial arts movie. With the nice cinematography and interesting, historical setting, it's almost worthy of being called a sweeping epic. The storyline is also worthy of a standard, Hollywood production. With rebels fighting imposing odds and a tyrannical, invading nation, it's easy to pick sides; and with the historical element added, you know that there will be a few scenes that are difficult to watch for their emotional impact and their brutality.

      My major enjoyment from the film came from the tangled storyline. Besides sort of an action/adventure and historical type of film, it also employs somewhat of a mystery. There are traitors and moles within each faction and the audience is kept guessing about who they might be. In fact, I was never quite sure where Le's loyalties lied throughout much of the picture. This is the type of film where there might be a twist coming at any moment. I very much enjoyed that aspect to the movie.

      The acting and dialogue throughout is surprisingly well played. I say surprising because for basically a stuntman to come forth and put together a story like this with strong, deep characters and heve them pull off their lines without cheese or feeling forced really says something about the film maker. This is not just some muscle bound henchman in the movie industry. He shows his grits as also a smart screenwriter with acting and casting talent as well.

      So The Rebel is more than worth seeing when available. Not so much as an action movie with a plot than it is a dramatic, well-acted story with amazingly choreographed fight scenes within to just give it that extra push over the top. Look for great things in the future from Nguyen as The Rebel is certainly a great foundation for him and his director brother (Charlie Nguyen) to start with.

Press "PLAY" to watch the trailer

Links: - full cast and crew
Official Site

Posted by Andrew James in

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