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Original Title:
The Rebel

Vietnam 2006

Martial Arts, Drama

Truc "Charlie" Nguyen

Johnny Nguyen
Dustin Nguyen
Ngo Thanh Van
Stephane Gauger
Chanh Tin Nguyen
David Minetti
Thang Nguyen

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The Rebel

Story: Cuong (Johnny Nguyen) and Sy (Dustin Nguyen) work for the french colonial leaders in Vietnam. During the assassination attempt of the vietnamese revolutionaries on a french politician female freedom fighter Thuy (Ngo Thanh Van) gets caught. Sy tortures her in order to get the information where her father, the head of the resistance movement, is hiding. But Cuong's conscience no longer allows him to just stand and watch, therefore, he helps Thuy to escape. Although Thuy, for apparent reasons, doesn't trust Cuong, the two from that time on are on the run from Sy and his men, who are always just one step behind them, together.
Cuong, who couldn't keep standing on the sideline watching unnecessary bloodshed and thus decided to turn his back on the french, starts to understand the true scale of his countrymen's suffering and is determined to help Thuy. In fact, the two get closer as time goes by, but Sy uses all his resources to find the two, since he hopes to be the successor of his boss when he manages to get them. In the end, he can corner the two, leading to a bloody encounter...

Review: It doesn't happen often that a Vietnamese movie gets into my hands... Actually, to be honest, it's the first time, and at first glance you might come to believe that this is in fact a Thai Tony-Jaa action flick. But wait... where is Tony Jaa? Still, there is this guy called Johnny Nguyen that somehow seems familiar. Right! He also played in "Tom Yum Goong", where he embodied one of the villians. But only few know that Johnny Nguyen, who is trained in Kung Fu, Wushu, Aikido and other martials arts since the age of 8, is also an internationally acknowledged stuntman, whose degree of awareness is rapidly going up. For one thing, this might be because of his charismatic looks, but the true reason for that naturally is that his body control and martial arts expertise are breathtaking. The action in "The Rebel" is high-impact style, ruthless and realistic. Still, there are also enough acrobatic moves - without any wire-work, mind you - that can easily stand up to Tony Jaa's efforts. What more does a martial arts fan want?

Maybe a decent story. And that's what "The Rebel" seems to aim for at first appearance. The film is quite political in tone and wants to portray the difficult colonial time of Vietnam by the French. Who is fighting against who and why? It soon becomes apparant that there are different ideologies, two parties, in the shape of Cuong and Thuy, who fight each other, even though in the end it all amounts to Vietnamese butchering their own people. At one point the movie almost even tries to show things from an objective viewpoint, and at another point Thuy says, that the French also did some good things for the country, like building streets or towns, but naturally freedom can't be the price for that. Towards the end it becomes more and more clear, that "The Rebel" can't do without bringing some pathos into the story after all, which isn't a lucky choice, as the story loses its political toned focus and becomes a more personal chase and vengeance trip. That's a pity...

Moreover, the dramatic moments can't always be quite convincing. On the one hand this is because of the actors, of course, as they aren't always bringing home the emotions. Even if Johnny Nguyen has more to offer acting-wise than Donnie Yen, this is still not enough for a film that often works on a drama level. His female partner on screen also isn't always convincing, since she often seems too emotionless. Furthermore, we can't really connect to these two. This especially applies to Thuy, since her actions are simply too merciless. At one point she even more or less executes a french soldier. Well, I'm no friend of the French normally, but that's just too much. Therefore, we always look at the events with a certain distance. Only Dustin Nguyen manages to portray a decent villian. Even though his portrayal remains shallow his character still has motives for his actions and also succeeds in delivering a good antagonist.

The emotionally laden moments are also experiencing distraction by the unfortunate editing. The change from one scene to another is way too abrupt, so that the otherwise well-done directing looks somehow (and unnecessarily) cheap. Apart from that "The Rebel" can surprise with some nice costumes, and the sets are quite appealing, too. Moreover, the soundtrack from Christopher Wong deserves some praise, as it adds a lot to the movie with some nice tunes.
However, many will watch this movie mainly because of its fights and you really won't be disappointed on that part. Johnny Nguyen works a lot with Muay Thai Kickboxing techniques and often mixes them with Vovinam, a vietnamese martial art. Furthermore, he over and over again performs some impressive acrobatics/jumps out of the wushu repertoire, which adds some more color to the rough fights. Dustin Nguyen and Ngo Thanh Van actually aren't trained in any martial arts, but you won't notice, as they both can show some nice and sometimes unusual moves, too. Finally seeing a new power woman in the shape of Ngo Thanh Van is especially satisfying.

The problem, however, remains that director Charlie Nguyen works too little with the characters, which means that their inner conflicts and self-doubt is a topic merely touched. It would have been nice, if the producers would had worked more with the story, but maybe this wasn't possible with a budget of only 1,6 Mio Dollar, which still means that "The Rebel" is one of the more expensive movies in Vietnam. There are some good ideas and the washed-out colors also add to the impression that this isn't primarily a martial arts movie, but a political drama. For the fact that the film, at least at the beginning, successfully works on both levels, the director deserves some credit. Action-fans, though, will just dig the acrobatics and the tough fighting sequences. It's apparent, that there had to be some compromising, and yet "The Rebel" remains an ambitious action-drama, that deserves respect. For this reason, and because of my naive assumption that Vietnam couldn't do any good action flick, I'm willing to be a little bit more giving concerning the rating. "The Rebel" surely is recommendable.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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