Vivendi Visual Entertainment // 2009 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // August 9th, 2011
If they want their freedom, they'll have to fight for it.
One of my favorite action guys working right now, Johnny Tri Nguyen (The Rebel), shows why Vietnam is a player in the international action movie market.
Nguyen is Quan, a gun-for-hire brought into a high-stakes heist job by the beautiful Trinh (Veronica Ngo). Their goal: Steal a laptop that can hack into a national defense grid. As their team springs into action, Quan and Trinh develop a steamy romance that is complicated almost immediately. Trinh is beholden to do the job because a gangster named the Black Dragon is holding her daughter hostage, and Quan is harboring a secret of his own.
The good news is these problems are nothing a series of flying kicks to bad guys faces can't fix, which is exactly what our two lovebirds do.
I became alerted to Clash a while back, but could never nail down a DVD release date and it fell of my radar. So it was with much pleasance and surprise when it showed up on our review request list. It's hard not to jump at the opportunity to see the latest from Johnny Tri Nguyen, easily today's most underrated international action star. Astute viewers will recognize him as Tony Jaa's nemesis in The Protector. Really astute viewers might finger him from a long list of Hollywood stunt work. Though not a perfect movie, The Rebel made him a headliner, and caught my attention as to what was coming out of the Vietnam beat'em up factory.
Clash is his latest, a film he wrote, produced, starred in, and choreographed the action for. A small budget exercise with a simplistic plot, what makes it worth investigating is the chemistry between Nguyen and Ngo...and the action, of course.
These two stars pop and it's easy to see their characters forming a relationship. It doesn't hurt when Quan spends half movie posing with a cigarette as if he were in a Marlboro ad, and Trinh wears a parade of red evening dresses with necklines that plunge to her navel. Hey, we can't all be beautiful people, but we can observe two crackling personalities feed off each other.
What makes this crackle detonate is the fisticuffs. I'll be honest: you can skip through the plot, dialogue, and romantic subplot, just to watch the action scenes. I'm confident you'll leave with a smile on your face; they're that impressive. Nguyen is as gifted an on-screen martial artist as I've seen, doing all his work without wires or CGI. Ngo is no slouch either, a female action hero absolutely believable in her ability to level dudes.
There are four big action set-pieces and they're pretty much all of the hand-to-hand variety. Nguyen is skilled enough to keep the fights varied, infusing the choreography with a variety of disciplines -- jujitsu, boxing, Muay Thai, aikido, and the Vietnamese art of Vovinam. I guarantee there will be more than one occasion when you rewind and watch what you just saw in slow motion.
Vivendi's DVD is solid, opening with a very strong 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, and supported by an active 5.1 Dolby surround (Vietnamese with English subtitles). A dubbed 2.0 stereo mix is also available. Extras: a conversation with Johnny and Veronica, featurettes on the fight scenes and the characters, and a music video.
A few things prevent me from truly embracing Clash:
1. Everyone uses worthless snub-nosed revolvers.
2. A overuse of opera music, which everyone knows is pretentious and uncalled for, unless you're watching an actual opera.
3. The final fight is sort of a cop-out. The Final Bad Guy Death Scene should have been a lot better.
There's good fun to be had with Clash; the action is gritty and grounded, the characters are interesting, and the Vietnamese rap songs are bodacious.
Not Guilty. Combat rock!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Vietnamese)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Music Video