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Clash | DVD Review

“Offering a combination of fighting techniques in an attempt to differentiate itself from Hong Kong martial arts films, this directorial debut from Le Thanh So doesn’t ever rise above the trappings of the genre. Despite an impressive fight sequence, or two, the meager plot and cliché back story techniques have all the earmarks of a low budget buffet.”

Reuniting acting duo Johnny Tri Nguyen and Veronica Ngo from the highly acclaimed Vietnamese 2007 action flick, The Rebel, the 2009 follow-up effort, the martial arts/action drama, Clash. Offering a combination of fighting techniques in an attempt to differentiate itself from Hong Kong martial arts films, this directorial debut from Le Thanh So doesn’t ever rise above the trappings of the genre. Despite an impressive fight sequence, or two, the meager plot and cliché back story techniques have all the earmarks of a low budget buffet.

The film’s center is Trinh (a striking Veronica Ngo), a mercenary specialist tasked with assembling a team of other such specialists to recover a briefcase that contains a stolen hard drive containing codes to Vietnam’s first satellite, which makes the film sound a lot more technologically savvy than it really is. It becomes clear that Trinh cannot trust any members of her team (all given code names for various animals or mythological creatures) but immediately begins to fall in love with Quan (Johnny Tri Nguyen). The majority of the film consists of double crosses and foreseeable hidden motivations, sporadically broken up by mandatory martial arts fight scenes.

The film tries desperately to inflate itself with intrigue but falls flat when relying on obvious formulas, such as going to great lengths to explain that Trinh and Quan have different interests for recovering the hard drive. Quan is searching for a man named Black Dragon, a ruthless gangster that killed his father and Trinh has been forced to assemble this operation because her daughter has been kidnapped by Black Dragon, the man that rescued Trinh from a brothel in Cambodia when she was 14 years old. Clash loses most of its credibility and momentum when delving into hackneyed flashbacks of a braided Ngo having her infant ripped from her. But the timeline of when or why this all happened, where she trained to be a “specialist,” and how many years it has been since she’s seen her progeny, is all a bit convoluted and vague. This ridiculousness is exacerbated by a high camp performance from the actor playing Black Dragon and a terribly barren and unimaginative scenario.

The film’s strongest moments come from a few choice action sequences (especially where Ngo’s team snatches the hard drive from the French dealers early on in the film). However, action sequences involving less frenetic energy tend to look like the film is simply being fast forwarded. While it looks fine, the image format is not exactly noteworthy. Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, the film sounds alright, but then the constant underlying action tempo music feels a bit like a video game. While the disc contains some special features, none of them are extraordinary.

A Conversation with Johnny and Veronica
The most interesting special feature is an English language interview with the lead stars of the film. Johnny Tri Nguyen speaks about writing the script and producing the feature while the intriguing Veronica Ngo also talks about her dual role as actress and producer.

Anatomy of a Fight Scene
Johnny Tri Nguyen and several other cast members talk about the strenuous rehearsal and practice in making a martial arts feature, which is illuminating. However, Nguyen takes pains to mention that he was impressed with everyone’s acting abilities, which he may have confused with their skill involving the strenuous choreography.

Cast of Characters
This feature is exactly that, a glossy line up of all the characters and their various code names set to pulsating music and some animation.

Music Video
The special features also include a music video featuring clips of the movie to original music from Christopher Wong.

While Clash certainly sounds intriguing on paper as a Vietnamese Martial Arts flick, it certainly has little to offer beyond its promise of genre staples. While it’s obvious that screenwriter Nguyen worked painstakingly to create an intriguing premise, there are simply too many moments of clumsy plot twists and asinine character motivations. The film’s biggest misstep is the romance that’s supposed to be kindled between Nguyen and Ngo. One of the most clichéd scenes in the film is when Ngo must attend a night club to spy on some French thugs that possess the hard drive. The camera lingers hungrily on her lithe legs as she steps out of a taxi, as aggressive as any paparazzo hovering intently on her lower half. In the club, Nguyen and Ngo must tango while spying on the intrigue involving a briefcase. Johnny Trinh Nguyen admitted in the behind-the-scenes interview that this scene was written later in order to establish a romance between the leads. The film reeks of contrivances, which is too bad, because the possibility for something greater was there.

Movie rating – 2.5

Disc Rating – 2.5

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Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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