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Rebel, The
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by Jay Seaver

"They can apparently kick some butt in Vietnam."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: I don't know how busy a local film industry Vietnam has, although I'm guessing it's small and relatively young - following IMDB links from "The Rebel" soon leads back to many of the same people and to foreign productions. That's not wholly a bad thing for an action-adventure flick like "The Rebel", though - it means limited screwing around with things like wires, padding, stunt doubles, or deceptive camera angles when the fighting starts.

The scene is 1922 Vietnam. The French have established a secret intelligence force to work against the rebels, and while their top team of Cuong (Johnny Nguyen) and Sy (Dustin Nguyen) isn't quite able to prevent the assassination of a French official, they do manage to capture a valuable prisoner - Vo Tranh Thuy (Thanh Van Ngo), daughter of a resistance leader and a fierce fighter in her own right. Though Sy mainly has his eye on career advancement, Cuong is increasingly uneasy with the violence necessary to maintain a system that doesn't seem to be bringing much to the Vietnamese people. This time, he snaps, breaking the girl out of prison. Sy, blamed for his subordinate's rebellion, decides to use this as an opportunity to track them back to the rebel leader.

Johnny Nguyen is a producer and writer as well as the lead actor, and along with Truc "Charlie" Nguyen (writer, director, executive producer, editor), he's built himself a pretty decent star vehicle. He's maybe not the greatest actor, but he and the filmmakers know how to work his brooding good looks in between action scenes. He's also smart enough to surround himself with good people: The actor playing Cuong's opium-addicted father, Chanh Tin Nguyen, is a local legend; Dustin Nguyen balances Sy's role as the villain nicely with his tension at how the French treat him; and Thanh Van Ngo is good whether asked to serve as the love interest or kick some butt.

And the butt-kicking in this movie is quality stuff. Johnny Nguyen is a top martial artist and stuntman (he doubled for Tobey Maguire in the first two Spider-Man movies), and he's got the knack of displaying incredible skills without it looking like superhuman abilities. Both Dustin Nguyen and Tranh Van Ngo seem to have some skills as well. The fights are pretty hard-hitting, with lots of blows coming from sharp elbows and knees and looking pretty painful. Johnny Nguyen and Tranh Van Ngo especially seem light on their feet, doing a good job of getting up in mid-air to deliver hard kicks or maneuvering to use legs as leverage to get much larger opponents down. The big fight at the end of the movie goes on a long, enjoyable time, and all of them are very impressive.

The fights are the movie's high point, no doubt, but the rest hardly looks bad. Lighting sometimes seems to be an issue; the darkness of some scenes may be realistic but make for tough viewing. The movie portrays the French as monstrous, but also goes out of the way to have Cuang mention he spent time in France and admired what he saw there by way of apology. On the plus side, the filmmakers do a pretty nice job of keeping things stylish while also managing some nice period detail.

"The Rebel" is an impressive action film out of a place that the rest of the film world doesn't necessarily look in. Hopefully Johnny Nguyen and company will be able to build on what they've started, especially since they're not doing bad as it is.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=17628&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/18/08 05:09:38
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2008 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/11/10 Josie Cotton is a goddess I saw this last night and have already fallen in love with Thnh Van Ngo! 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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  DVD: 30-Sep-2008

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