Genius Products // 2007 // 104 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // October 3rd, 2008
Kicking = terrific!
Dragon Dynasty continues to unleash the stuff that action lovers crave, and this Vietnamese kicking and punching bonanza has a lot going for it, not the least of which is the presence of one Dustin Nguyen of 21 Jump Street fame.
Set in 1920s Vietnam, when the country was under the thumb of French rule, an upstart band of freedom fighters decided to take it to the foreigners and their countrymen who turned against them. An agent for the government (Johnny Tri Nguyen, The Protector) is sent into the heart of the resistance, where he partners with a beautiful woman (Veronica Ngo).
As the two embark on a journey across Vietnam to get to the resistance hideout, they must repel the violent advances of the French and their imposing, nigh-indestructible enforcer (Dustin Nguyen), who is not too cool to punch women in the face.
I first noticed Johnny Tri Nguyen in Tony Jaa's The Protector, when he played a local tough guy who matched up with Jaa in a memorable bout in a restaurant. I could tell the guy had moves. And moves he has, and they're given some major play in his first headlining venture.
Before you think The Rebel is a nonstop chopsocky-fest, you should know that the film is plot and character-heavy and that translates into a methodical period piece, peppered with stunning exhibitions of martial arts agility. Translation: prepare yourself for a slower pace, but know that your patience will be rewarded with some of the most visceral, well-staged hand-to-hand combat you'll see this year.
Thankfully, the story is good. The setting helps in a big way, as this was a time and locale and piece of history I was unfamiliar was. The colonialism angle is always good for some red-meat us-versus-them dynamic, but, history or not, there's no denying the "freedom fighter" grist has a been-there-seen-that flavor. I'm guessing you'll be able to call the story beats from the get-go. Still, while the plot isn't an award-winner it's a far cry from some of the other "storylines" in comparable action flicks (e.g. The Protector) and is interesting enough to bide time until the center attraction -- which is, of course, the fisticuffs.
Johnny Tri Nguyen is an immense physical talent and a stunning martial artist and someone I sincerely hope to see in future endeavors. The action, which he also choreographed, is based solely on the athletic prowess of the fighters, and their ability is impressive. There's no wire-work or computer-assistance, just down and dirty and sometimes extraordinarily punishing (some of these guys definitely were kicked in the head) martial artistry. The action is highlighted by the finale, an awesome sequence in a train featuring some of the niftiest moves I've seen. Ngo's flying swallow scissor kick? Classic. Those full-body axe kicks from Johnny Tri? Mindblowing. And how about Dustin Nguyen? Who knew the third banana to Peter DeLuise could be such a fearsome physical presence. And big points for a memorable Final Bad Guy Death.
As predicted, the two-disc release from Dragon Dynasty is superb. The 1.85:1 widescreen anamorphic video quality is clean, but the colors are muted. This may be a stylistic choice, though. 5.1 surround tracks in Vietnamese and English (with the stars dubbing in their own voices) are active. An excellent lineup of extras: a great commentary track with Dustin Nguyen and Johnny Tri, Veronica Ngo and Asian film expert Bey Logan, three long interviews with Dustin, Johnny Tri and Veronica Ngo, a brief martial arts demonstration from Johnny Tri, a weird deleted scene, a photo gallery and making-of featurette.
Push through some of the slower points and you will be smacked in the head with some sublime martial arts theatrics. Recommended without reservation for action fans.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Vietnamese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Vietnamese)
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scene
* Still Gallery