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Blood Letter - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Thien Menh Anh Hung

Vietnam 2012

Wuxia, Action

Victor Vu

Huynh Dong
Khuong Ngoc
Minh Thuan
Kim Hien
Van Trang
Jayvee Mai The Hiep

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Blood Letter

Story: As a child Nguyen Vu (Huynh Dong) is brought into a temple. His whole family has been executed and he himself shouldn't be alive either. When he is grown up soldiers come by at the temple, at which he still lives, and he recognizes the official who was present at his parents' execution. Thereupon Nguyen's master tells him that he is the last survivor of a powerful family clan and that Queen Thai Hau (Van Trang) had given the orders of killing his family. Nguyen leaves the temple in order to take revenge for his family, but when he infiltrates the royal palace he eavesdrops on a conversation about a blood letter that carries a secret which could become a danger to the queen. Suddenly the royal court is attacked by female warrior Hoa Xuan (Midu). Nguyen manages to save her and escape with her. It turns out that her parents have been killed by orders of the queen as well. Nguyen has some trouble doing so, but he eventually succeeds in persuading her not to attack the palace on another suicide mission, but instead accompany him in looking for the mysterious blood letter.

Review: If "Blood Letter" achieves one thing it is proving that Vietnam has lately become capable of shooting a wuxia film that in terms of quality can in fact be on par with those of South Korea or even the land of the genre's origin - China. What needs to be emphasized are the breathtaking sets, that are overflowing with vivid shots of nature and even apart from that are mesemerizing thanks to lush temples and palaces. A big strength of the movie are the fights as well, which will make every martial art fan's heart jump for joy. This makes it easy to overlook a story that isn't truely original and characters that would have deserved some more fleshing out. Yet, the movie covers some ground that actually gives it some epic nature and thus improves the story by a lot.

Blood Letter - Film Screenshot 11

The story, which is based on the novel by the same name from Bui Anh Tan, is a traditional wuxia story. There are so many elements to be found that have recognition value that you actually could make a funny drinking game out of it. For instance, there is the orphan, who is in fact a blue-blooded boy and is raised at a temple, there is the motive of revenge that is towering above everything else and is supposed to rehabilitate the family name, a hot-blooded female sword fighter and the obligatory betrayal. Oh yeah, of course the story's hero is at first incredibly naive and unworldly. Soon it becomes obvious that you shouldn't expect any innovation here and the fact that during the film's middle part a certain aimlessness gets the upper hand, is almost something that we expected beforehand as well.

Blood Letter - Film Screenshot 12

Unfortunately, the acting isn't perfect at all times either - but it's by no means amateurish. Furthermore, it never really becomes striking as director Victor Vu knows how he can annul the weaknesses of the film with the right pictures. And visually the movie is simply eye candy. You could actually misconceive "Blood Letter" as some hidden tourism advertising, that's just how mesmerizing the outdoor shots are. Apparently, there was enough money at disposal here, which can also be seen in the lush palaces and the many extras as well as the great costumes. There just didn't seem to be any money left for the special effects. Once again the question should be asked why the ideas of fantasy elements that may have looked nice on paper weren't discarded if you couldn't visualize them convincingly. Does Nguyen really need his modification of the Hadoken special attack?

As is known the border between fantasy and wuxia is blurry, and moreover, in this respect, at least the showdown is playing out quite decent after all. But what's fully convincing at all times is the action. Johnny Nguyen ("The Rebel", "Tom Yum Goong") is the man responsible for the choreography and everyone who knows a little but about martial arts flicks knows that with him a true professional is at work. The fights are at times very complex and always innovative so that even the wire fu is fun to watch. Sadly, the director oftentimes tempered with the speed and artificially increased it or implemented some slow motion sequences. Whether the lacking skills of some of the actors made this a necessity or not isn't clear, but even that doesn't really bother. At least lead actor Huynh Dong convinces, although his fights wouldn't have suffered from some more dynamic.

Blood Letter - Film Screenshot 13

Also surprising is that "Blood Letter" features some pretty amusing scenes between Nguyen and Hoa, constantly managing for the movie not to be too serious but also refraining from any unnecessary slapstick. An action-heavy soundtrack by Christopher Wong walks along Hollywood paths and always remains atmospheric. Therefore, it is just the screenplay in the end that could have been elaborated a bit more. In addition, the movie's message at the end concerning despots is rather questionable. Nevertheless, "Blood Letter" is a well achieved first wuxia entry for Vietnam, which admittedly also enjoys some leniency concerning its weaknesses since you wouldn't have expected this much quality out of Vietnam in the first place. Moreover, the magnificent pictures and the great action speak for themselves.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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