Clash, a.k.a. Bay Rong, 2009.
Directed by Le Thanh Son.
Starring Johnny Nguyen, Veronica Ngo, Hoang Phuc Nguyen, Lam Minh Thang and Hieu Hien.
Forced into becoming a mercenary after her daughter is kidnapped by a powerful gangland boss, a young woman sets out to assemble a team of specialists in order to complete her latest mission.
Over the past decade there’s been a real explosion in the popularity of Asian cinema with Western audiences, with markets such as Hong Kong, South Korea and Hong Kong having delivered a number of critically acclaimed and commercially successful films across a range of genres. However, one country that’s a little late to the party is Vietnam, whose cinematic output has suffered over the years due to strict regulation from the communist government. Only recently has its industry began to shift away from state-sponsored propagandist pieces to corporate-sponsored populism, resulting in a fresh wave of new films looking to emulate their more established cousins and put themselves on the map internationally by adding a coating of Hollywood gloss.
An early example of this is director Le Thanh Son’s debut feature Clash, which reunites many of the cast and crew of the martial arts period epic The Rebel, including pop star-turned-actress Veronica Ngo (Saigon Love Story) and acclaimed stuntman/actor Johnny Nguyen, whose extensive credits include the likes of Spider-Man, Cradle 2 the Grave and the upcoming X-Men: First Class. A high-octane actioner, Clash pays homage to the Hollywood blockbuster while simultaneously drawing influences from the frenetic martial arts stylings of Thai superstar Tony Jaa and the Heroic Bloodshed of Hong Kong’s action maestros such as John Woo and Ringo Lam.
Ngo stars as Trinh, a beautiful young woman rescued from a life of Cambodian prostitution by mob boss Black Dragon (Hoang Phuc) and forced to complete a number of ‘assignments’ on his behalf as ransom for her kidnapped daughter. Her latest assignment – the theft of a laptop providing access to Vietnam’s satellite defence systems – requires Trinh to assemble a team of specialists that, unbeknown to her, includes undercover police detective Quan (Nguyen), who is working to bring down Black Dragon and his criminal empire. Soon Trinh and Quan – or rather Phoenix and Tiger, to give them their codenames – begin to fall for one another, but when the heist goes wrong they find themselves working on opposite sides of the law and must put their differences aside to achieve a common goal.
Given that this kind of Vietnamese filmmaking is still in its infancy, Western audiences will find few surprises within the story and indeed, some elements of the narrative even push the boundaries of cliché. But, let’s be honest here – the story is really little more than an excuse to get from one action set-piece to another, and that’s what really counts with a film like this. Fortunately, this is where Clash excels. The movie is chock full of Gun-Fu – the kind where ammunition flows freely and reloads only come into play for dramatic effect, with all participants typically running out of bullets at the same time before downing tools for a good old-fashioned mixed martial arts fisticuffs.
Nguyen had a supporting role in Warrior King and Clash’s abundance of fight scenes look every bit as painful and realistic; the elaborate fight choreography is superb and complimented well by Le Thanh Son’s decision to avoid the growing trend of rapid-fire editing and quick camera movements, which allows us to experience each and every blow in all its brutality. Of course, being a respected stunt performer Nguyen is right at home here but the real star of the show is relative newcomer Ngo, who looks equally as confident kicking ass as seasoned pros like Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi, and will surely go on to establish herself as one of the premiere female action stars of Asian cinema.
Clash was the most popular film of 2009 in its domestic market and, while it’s unlikely to enjoy anywhere near that kind of exposure with a direct-to-video release here in the UK, action fans certainly won’t be disappointed should they choose to pick this one up.
Clash is released today on DVD.