After The Lady Assassin was my first venture into Vietnamese action heroine film, it didn’t take long for the second to show up, though this could hardly be more different, being a gritty beast set firmly in the modern era. It begins with Trinh (Van) putting together a team of criminals – in an amusing nod to Reservoir Dogs, they each take code names, and there’s bickering over who gets what animal. The job is to steal a laptop containing sensitive information on behalf of Trinh’s employer, Hac Long (Phuc), but after the mission achieves its end, one of the gang goes renegade and vanishes with the computer, intending to sell it on his own behalf. Trinh teams up with – in more ways than one, if you know what I mean, and I think you do – another member, Quan (Nguyen), unaware that he’s actually an undercover cop, seeking to bring down her boss. Trinh has issues of her own to worry about, for Hac is holding her young girl hostage, and requires her to complete “just seven more” jobs, in order to win Trinh’s daughter her freedom.
I’ve heard of Nguyen before; he did some work in Hollywood, before returning to his native country and starring in The Rebel, which became the biggest-grossing local film at the time of its release in 2007. This re-unites him with his co-star there, and the film does a good job of balancing the two stories, though it’s not until the second half that Quan steps out from the crowd of supporting actors to join Trinh in the spotlight. The martial arts is certainly impressive, with a hard-hitting style which seems to borrow a fair amount from Muay Thai, and former beauty queen and pop singer Van certainly holds her own. It’s notably less successful when it strays from this, and tries to incorporate gun-battles into the mix: it delivers the kind of high-volume, low-accuracy shootouts which might have passed muster during the heyday of Hong Kong cinema, but is more likely to produce a derisive snigger these days, for example due to the apparently bulletproof nature of Vietnamese furniture.
Have to say, elements of the storyline are also more than a tad over-familiar too, especially if you’ve seen Ronin, which used a number of the same elements, and had a rather better cast, acting-wise. Van isn’t bad, but she does have the advantage of the script providing her character with significantly better back-story. Quan is an undercover cop, largely for the reason that the story appears to have decided it needs one. Naturally, things build to the expected finale where they have to take on Hac Long, and… I should say no more for fear of spoilers, though that would probably imply there was something unexpected – and that isn’t exactly this movie’s strong suit, shall we say. Still, as mindless action, it’s entirely serviceable: perhaps I’ll make The Rebel #3 in this ongoing series?
Dir: Le Thanh Son
Star: Ngo Thanh Van, Johnny Tri Nguyen, Hoang Phuc, Lam Minh Thang
a.k.a. Bẫy Rồng