The Rebel (Vietnam 2007)

Rating: ****
Alternate Title: Dong Mau Anh Hung
Review Date: 10/1/11
Director: Charlie Nguyen
Written By: Johnny Nguyen, Charlie Nguyen
Music: Christopher Wong
Action Director: Johnny Nguyen
Cast: Johnny Nguyen, Veronica Ngo (Thanh Van Ngo), Dustin Nguyen

An excellent historical drama with some fantastic martial arts sequences. In 1922, Vietnam was under French colonial rule and a growing rebellion sought to kick the French invaders out. Cuong (Johnny Nguyen) and Sy (Dustin Nguyen) are Vietnamese special agents employed by the French to eradicate the rebel threat, and while Sy has dreams of power, Cuong is tired of the bloodshed and wants out. When he meets Thuy (Veronica Ngo), the daughter of a rebel leader, he falls in love with her and becomes a fugitive by helping her escape from the sadistic Sy. But can he be trusted? Is it just a ploy to gain her confidence and get closer to the rebel's secret hideout? In the end, everyone's differences are aired in a spectacular display of martial arts mayhem.

First and foremost, the film is a powerhouse showcase for Johnny Nguyen, and he is absolutely wonderful. He's a very good actor, and his pained and sensitive portrayal of a conflicted tough guy is surprisingly moving. He reminds me a lot of Brandon Lee. He's also a fabulous martial artist, and his wushu moves are as graceful and nimble as they are hard hitting. Thankfully, the cinematography and editing do an excellent job of capturing Nguyen's choreography and execution, creating some of the best fight scenes I've seen in a while. It also helps that Dustin Nguyen makes an excellent villain, who is equally skilled and struggling with his own particular demons. Veronica Ngo adds the chaos factor as a feisty freedom fighter who is both gorgeous and deadly. Her fight scenes are breathtaking, and I was constantly impressed by her execution and precision. Very impressive work, and I look forward to seeing more of her action persona in the future.

The film boasts high production values and looks wonderful, while the sets and costumes really bring the era alive. The writing and acting are extremely good, and Christopher Wong's stirring music score sets an appropriately somber tone. The film is pretty grim and tackles some difficult issues, but it manages to balance melodrama with sensationalized action pretty well. It also works well as a love story, and you can't help but cheer for the couple and hope that they can reconcile their differences. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by "The Rebel" and look forward to seeing Johnny Nguyen's continued success.