Back in 2007, international audiences became witness to the rise of Vietnamese action female star Veronica Ngo Thanh Van (whole native name) in “The Rebel”. Two years after, Ngo seemed even more determined and poised to abandon her other roots in “Saigon Love Story” with the 2009 film “Clash” (Bay Rong) that also reunites her with Johnny Tri Nguyen who made his breakout debut in Thailand’s “Tom Yum Goong” (re-titled “The Protector” in the U.S.). Director Le Thanh Son gives us a standard action-thriller with “Clash”, but the real star of the film is Veronica Ngo who just exudes that “Nikita” appeal as the mob enforcer/spy code-named “Phoenix”.
A mysterious mob boss named Hac Long (Hoang Phuc Nguyen) enlists the services of a female enforcer named Trinh (sexy Veronica Ngo) who is code-named Phoenix. Trinh is not after money but rather she had agreed to complete missions for Long in exchange for her daughter’s freedom. Trinh in turn enlists the services of 4 other mercenaries that include Quan (Johnny Nguyen) who is code named “Tiger”. Quan appears to be more interested in protecting Trinh, and in their mission to recover a laptop that contain secrets, the two find their motivations in a collision course….
The screenplay written by Johnny Nguyen and Ho Quang Hung is your standard good guys versus bad guys fare with the bad guys playing the good guys. The set up is pretty simple, and director Le Thanh Son keeps things simple while trying to capitalize on the emotions behind the motivations of each lead character. There really is nothing special with the plot, the set ups are simple. A double cross here and then a surprise twist here and there. It does appear successful as it becomes quite easy to root for Trinh, and to hate the bad guy named Long. The direction also relies on simple flashbacks to express the emotions and develop the characters. In the script, Quan is a wild card, and he really doesn’t get much development until the second half.
There really isn’t much in the way of intricacies, the sequences and the plot were all meant to set up each action scene that is made up of shoot them ups, car chases and a lot of martial arts action. I did have some issues with the way some of the gunplay and chase sequences were shot, it was missing a certain style that proved lacking when compared to Hong Kong and Japanese action films. It wasn’t that they were badly shot, but it was obvious that the film’s low budget may have hampered their success. Perhaps I am a little spoiled when it comes to action, but clearly this was an area that the direction should’ve improved upon.
The direction also lingers too much at certain points to try to deliver some emotions. I know, it was an attempt to express some visual poetry, but some scenes with Long and Trinh felt like they were products of overwrought drama, and their timing were a little uneven. They weren’t so bad that they ruined the pace, and Veronica Ngo is very easy to look at, but I felt that by lingering, the direction exposed the script’s many weaknesses. Most of the acting is decent, but you could tell right away which of them are fillers and which are the major players.
Now what made this film work is the number of martial arts encounters since there are a lot of them. The fights were choreographed nicely and gives the two protagonists a feeling of familiarity since they seem to rely on some favorite moves as they do work for them. Johnny Tri Nguyen (who also did the fight choreography) and Veronica Ngo make dynamic chemistry as they take on all comers, there was even a cool scene as they engaged several French baddies. The two move as if in one fluid motion, as they do the spin kicks and grapples with precision. However, the camerawork should’ve been better in expressing the intensity of the fights. Most of the time it just hangs back and does not express the needed contrast and emphasis in a fight. It was also easy to spot the stunt men on the part of Huang Phuc Nyuyen. Be that as it may, Veronica Ngo is so sexy and alluring in her scenes, and her scene in that boy shirt and red dress would be enough to make me pay for the dvd.
“Clash” is a low budget actioner that isn’t excellent, but is sure was decent and some can even say that it was good. I suppose while I thought it was good, the only thing that it wasn't able to do was make me say 'WOW' in the action scenes. The star of the show is Veronica Ngo Thanh Van who just exuded raw sex appeal behind each parry, punch and spin kick; she was a sight to behold. It is always easier to teach a martial artist to act than to teach an actor/actress to do martial arts. Nguyen and Ngo did the action scenes with no wires and no stunt doubles. That itself is an achievement in this day and age in modern action films where most of everything is wires and CGI.
Timid Recommendation to Action junkies and a RENTAL to Everybody Else [3 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
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