“A new territory of action heroines opens?”
The first Vietnamese action heroine film I’ve seen is a credible effort, albeit one that is weakened by a couple of obvious flaws. Firstly, the middle section spends far too much time sitting around chatting (particularly in the hot-tub, though to Western eyes, it’s a peculiarly PG hot-tub, with the clothes remaining on), and the occasional game of beach volleyball is about the only concession to action. Secondly, the actresses are much too spindly for the sword-swinging fights they are called on to do here; I’m guessing they are models, but someone really needs to buy them a good meal or two. However, the premise is solid and the central performances are fine. There’s also a rousing finale which lasts a solid 20 minutes, with a surprisingly high body-count, and it’s always best to save the best for last, so your audience leaves the movie with a good final impression. In this case, it certainly upped the grade by at least one-half star.
The main setting is a group of four women, led by Kieu Thi (Thanh Hang) who operate a tavern by the sea, that offers rest and sustenance to passing travellers, with a side menu of more salacious offerings, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. They also have a further sideline: robbing and murdering those they deem appropriate, particularly including corrupt officials. They’re in for a shock though, as the cargo being transported by their latest victims is a young woman, Linh Lan (Tang Thanh Ha) . Her life is spared by Kieu, who realizes that they share a common goal, her and Linh seeking vengeance on the evil general Quan Du, who murdered both of their families. He’s very difficult to get to, but Quan Du has a particular fondness for virgins – while this may rule the more “experienced” Kieu out, it leaves Linh as the perfect assassin, if only she can be trained in the necessary skills. Time for some wire-fu powered beach volleyball – and the sequences here are better than Beach Spike, at least. But not everyone in and around the tavern is who they seem, and neither might they need to find Quan Du, if he comes to find them first…
The action is a bit of a mixed bag, and that’s putting it mildly. Even in the same sequence, it’ll combine poorly-done CGI and questionable wirework, with stunningly well-executed shots and long takes of acrobatic action. Perhaps it works better seen in 3D, as originally intended, or perhaps that aspect simply acts as a distraction [something we’ve seen often enough in Western 3D films]. But overall, the balance is positive, helped by Thanh’s undeniable screen presence. Outside of her and Tang, the rest of the cast are closer to eye-candy, and this might be one of those cases where more is less. However, for an apparent first stab at the sub-genre of historical action heroines, I’ve seen an awful lot worse, and I’ll have to see if I can find anything else from the local movie industry.
Dir: Quang Dung Nguyen
Star: Tang Thanh Ha, Thanh Hang, Kim Dzung, Anh Khoa