The Rebel (2006)
For those of us who are part of the baby boomer generation the country of Vietnam generally means one thing, the war. While it is understandable that we would have this myopic viewpoint, there is a lot that happened to this country before American involvement, and much has taken place after that left. The film ‘The Rebel’ by Charlie Nguyen looked at the period when France held Vietnam as one of its colonies. This is also a representative of how the people of the country are trying to move forward and make a mark in the world of cinema. This is the most expensive Vietnamese film production to date, and the quality shows it. Of note here is the budget translates to about a million and a half American which is a meager budget for most Western independent movies. Nguyen takes on the combination of two genres here, a very ambitious undertaking, historical drama, and action. Fortunately for the audience, he scores extremely well in both instances. He manages to provide what few action directors have achieved. He infuses a compelling story along with Buttkicking action. This is the kind of movie that warrants such accolades as brilliant and groundbreaking. I was mesmerized by the sheer beauty of the film and wowed by the fight scenes. There was a time when the action genre belonged to American filmmakers. Then Asian directors started to make their mark in the field most notably with those in Hong Kong leading the way. Now it is Vietnam’s turn and judging by this film the others have some formidable competition. If you are the kind of movie fan that has been reluctant to watch foreign films because you dislike reading the subtitles or hate the mismatched voices of the dubbed soundtrack forget the past and give this one a shot. Not only is it well worth owning the dubbing was done for the most part by the actual actors who are fluent in both languages. It is films like this that will turn many Americans into fans of Vietnamese action movies. It is now possible to add this excellent film to your collection thanks to the Dragon Dynasty division of the Weinstein Company and Genius Productions. This is far above the usual pack of mindless action for action sake flicks and is a film that is entertaining and intriguing.
Many people may think that a stunt man is a big burly guy who makes a living getting punched, defenestrated and generally kicked around. I have had the pleasure of interviewing a few men in this profession over the years and from what I have seen they are intelligent and talented people. To make an action sequence of a minute or so work there are months of preparation required. This entails plotting angles, safety precautions and planning and rehearsals on the level of a major military operation. As such the professional stunt man has to know many aspects of the film making the process. Johnny Nguyen paid attention during his time performing stunts. In that field, he has worked in some pretty intense movies including the first two ‘Spider-Man’ films and ‘Serenity.’ This is his second time up as a producer and his first as a writer, but there is no hint of lack of experience or talent here. Joining him on the script is his brother, Truc 'Charlie' Nguyen and Dominic Pereira. Charlie has one previous script which was generally well received. Pereira worked on one other film as a cinematographer on a documentary.
Along with his scripting duties, he also worked on this film in that capacity. When you think about it, a cinematographer is natural for writing a screenplay since he can think in terms of the images that will come from his words. The story as presented here is straightforward. Considering the topic of imperialism, it would have been easy for these men to get bogged down in an overly heavy political statement, Instead of going that route they stuck to telling an engaging story of people trapped by their times. The script here does more than fill in the time between fights. This is a story that rings true and actual character development.
As the director of this film, Charlie Nguyen does an exceptional job. Most people think of fancy wire work stunts when they see an Asian action movie. Nguyen goes for a more realistic look and feels for his fight sequences. There is a sense that this is happening rather than the stunts that ignore the laws of physics. Since his brother, the star of the film, has worked as a stunt coordinator they know how to stage the choreography to amaze the audience while retaining the all-important sense that you are in the real world. Occasionally the lighting is set too far on the dark side making it difficult to see what is going o, but overall the look of the film is stunning. Nguyen has enough experience working in Hollywood to pick up the slick flow and pacing but has retained the unique Asian drive.
The film took place in Vietnam in 1922. This was a turbulent time when the population was chaffing under the imperial rule of the French. In response to the dissent, the French have instituted a program of native-born agents acting in secret to infiltrate and ultimately destroy the rebels. One such agent is Le Van Cuong (Johnny Tri Nguyen) who has maintained a stellar performance. Recently he has started to doubt what he has been doing; betraying his people to the point of killing them. When a high ranking French official is assassinated, Cuong is given the task of hunting down a major resistance leader (Chanh Tin Nguyen) to terminate with extreme prejudice. His superior Sy (Dustin Nguyen) is anxious to see this mission completed and is not fully aware of the doubts that Cuong has been having. While tracking down his target, Cuong meets Vo Thanh Thuy (Ngo Thanh Van), the beautiful daughter of the rebel leader. When Sy Cuong captures, she has to reassess his loyalties.
Not only is the film top notch but the DVD from Dragon Dynasty goes above and beyond. There is an anamorphic video that is great and free on any flaws. The audio is available in Vietnamese Dolby 5.1 or DTS or a Dolby 5.1 English dubbed track. There are also English subtitles. This is a two-disc special edition that provides more about the movie than you could have asked for. Disc one has the feature and a commentary track with the director. The second disc is packed with interviews and featurettes that cover every aspect of the production including deleted scenes and a martial arts demonstration. This is one to have and enjoy.
Posted 09/30/08 Posted 04/23/2019