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Clash (Bay Rong)
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by Jay Seaver

"Not bad, but we know you can do better."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2010 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It's probably unfair to compare "Clash" (aka "Bay Rong") to "The Rebel", the previous action movie to co-star Johnny Nguyen and Tranh Van Ngo, but it's inevitable - the two leads are back, Nguyen once again writes and produces, much of the behind the scenes crew is the same (with that movie's co-editor taking the director's chair). This looks to be made on a much smaller budget, and is contemporary as opposed to being a period piece. Unfortunately, it just isn't at the same level; the action scenes are fewer and farther between, and the melodramatic story doesn't quite work.

It involves Trinh (Thanh Van "Veronica" Ngo), a hard-as-nails mercenary who has put together an anonymous team to do a job: Stealing a laptop from some westerners for a gangster known as "Black Dragon". Trinh values anonymity to a paranoid extent, giving everyone code names and insisting they use them, kicking one of her men's butt a little when he tries to argue with her rules. She's got reason to want to keep a secret; her boss, gangster "Black Dragon", is holding her daughter hostage, and won't return the little girl until she has completed a number of missions. Of course, secrets can cause a little trouble - one of her men (Johnny Nguyen) is an undercover cop.

For all the story that Johnny Nguyen crams into the script, the mission itself never becomes terribly interesting. You may as well call the laptop a MacGuffin and be done with it, and for all the mistrust and betrayals that eventually take place, the intrigue just isn't there. The characters are basic types without a whole lot of individual personality - most are pretty grim hardcases, although there's an inexperienced rookie driver in the mix. The end is also a bit of a let-down; while, yes, earlier the movie made a bit of a joke about seeming like another movie, this isn't a terribly satisfying way to break the mold.

Still, when the action scenes come, they are great fun to watch. Nguyen is a top-notch screen fighter, and Ngo isn't so bad herself. As in their previous film, they spend a lot of time using a style of martial arts that prizes leverage - as in, Ngo may not be an imposing figure, but she can get up in the air, grab someone's neck with her legs, and flip them onto their backs. Other fights borrow a lot from competitive mixed martial arts, with a fair amount of grappling on the ground. It is all shot and cut in a way that there's no doubt that the actors and stuntmen are taking hits and doing some incredibly athletic action. On that count, at least, it delivers the goods.

Stars Johnny Nguyen and Tranh Van Ngo aren't bad, either. Even when their characters are somewhat at odds or not yet ready to trust each other, they've got chemistry. Having them tango together is an obvious way to jack up the sex appeal a little, but it works, and they do all right playing off the various other characters. The cast is capable, especially the leads, although few of them seem to be chosen more for their skill in the action scenes than the dialogue bits. Unfortunately, there's not quite enough action that the main impression is of seeing everyone doing what they do best.

"Clash" isn't the complete package; between action scenes, it often seems to be going through the motions. But those action scenes are good enough to watch it at once, and hope that the next time this group makes a movie together, they're back to being as good as we know they can be.

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originally posted: 08/14/10 13:37:09
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Traverse City Film Festival For more in the 2010 Traverse City Film Festival series, click here.

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7/28/10 Hoang Anh 4 stars
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  DVD: 09-Aug-2011



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