Saturday, December 31, 2011


Clash is the latest movie by Johnny Tri Nguyen, the star of Force of Five and The Rebel. Or at least it's his latest movie available in the US. Clash has a very different feel than The Rebel, the last Nguyen movie I saw. That movie was a period piece, while this one is a stylish thriller set in the present day.

The plot is pretty straightforward, but the competing interests of the characters and their resulting double crosses of each other lead to enough twists to lift the story in to the better-than-average category for a martial arts movie.

That said, the plot doesn't get in the way much of the action, and the fights are really good. I can't think of any fights that looked like they used wires, which is good given Clash's grittier feel. While there are guns and knives used, the martial arts remain the focus in all the fights. The only downside to the guns is that it's a bit laughable what bad shots the characters must be in order to miss some of their targets!

Nguyen remains a strong performer, with a good deal of screen charisma beyond his skills as a martial artist. Some of his spinning kicks in this movie are especially impressive. Also, both he and costar Thanh Van Ngo (also from The Rebel) engage in more submission moves than I recall from recent martial arts movies. That was cool.

Downsides? There are two big ones. First, the romance between Nguyen and Ngo is extremely forced and, since it takes up a good deal of time in the middle third of the film, that's a problem. I didn't feel any sparks that suggested these two characters could overcome the obvious trust issues enough to fall in love. As a result, the love story is a big minus. It slows the movie down too much, despite some of the additional complications it introduces (no spoilers here).

The other downside is that Le Thanh Son's direction ends up spending a bit too much time on shots of his stars smoking, drinking, and otherwise 'looking tough' and this makes them come off like dorky poseurs. Nguyen is a hot guy; he doesn't need the film to sell him to us. An extended example of this is when Nguyen and Ngo tango in a club. The director's (or scriptwriter) is trying to be stylish, but it just seems out of place. Exactly when does a woman who spent her teens in a brothel, was a mother, and then lived as a mercenary find time to learn tango moves? Plus, the obvious use of a dancing double for Nguyen (who clearly couldn't 'cut a rug' if you gave him scissors) makes the whole thing kind of embarrassing. On the plus side, Le Thanh Son does a good job with the rest of the film.

While these flaws definitely slow the pace of the movie down in places, especially in the middle, Clash is a great ride. I have yet to see Nguyen give a bad performance or dish out a bad film, so here's hoping his star continues to rise.

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