CLASH follows Trinh, a mercenary, assigned to recover a stolen hard drive containing codes to Vietnam's first satellite, the VINASAT.1. She creates an ensemble of specialists to regain control of the hard drive before it is sold to the Chinese Triad. Lies and betrayal unfold as Trinh uncovers the truth behind her squad. Who can she trust?
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Why this movie is different from other martial arts features? For 2 reasons. First, the action choreography, is not just well done, it is impeccable and filmed with fast pace unlike martial action in other movies, where directors prefer to slow down the moves, thinking that looks best on screen. Yes, it does, but fast fighting moves look much more awesome. Second, the martial arts here is perfectly aligned with a human drama and down to earth human relations (ex. the stunning tango scene), which makes the movie so much interesting to watch. Otherwise, believe me, you would have been bored watching just a non-stop action.
What drew me to CLASH more than anything is that it reunites The Rebel alums, Johnny Tri Nguyen and Veronica Ngo. They prove that their chemistry in THE REBEL wasn't a fluke. Veronica Ngo (a.k.a. Ngo Thanh Van) plays Trinh, the indentured enforcer of a mob boss nicknamed the Black Dragon. The Black Dragon had abducted Trinh's young daughter and now forces Trinh to carry out the acquisition of a highly coveted laptop which can unlock deep government secrets. Trinh outsources a crew of specialists, numbering among them the mysterious, unflappable Quan (Johnny Tri Nguyen).
CLASH isn't as ambitious as THE REBEL. It's set on a smaller scale. And in its dramatic nuances and plot twists, it won't bowl over any viewer. Of course, not all of Trinh's teammates are on the up and up. Not everyone shares Trinh's motivations. No doubt, there's a bad apple in the bunch just raring to pull a heel turn. This is B-movie filmmaking 101. What distinguishes the movie are the lead actors. And the fight scenes. Johnny Tri Nguyen - who produced and co-wrote the story - deserves credit for attempting to instill heart in the screenplay, except that it's just the same old melodrama (although I did like the climactic five-way stand-off), and the pace is sometimes just off. Still, Nguyen and Veronica Ngo's performances liven things up. There's just enough complexity and emotional depth there that they salvage the storyline. Again, these two are good together. In some tangible way, CLASH acts as a love story between a tragic heroine and a burnt out but still smooth operator.
It's in the action bits that Ngo and Nguyen truly register a vivid presence. The fight choreography is tremendous. I relished the joint fight scenes as the camera frenziedly tracks Ngo and Tri Nguyen as, in several set pieces, they work in concert to dish out punishment on one squad of goons after another. There's a frenziedness to the camera movement, but a clarity as well. The action is easy to follow.
Just how intense is Veronica Ngo? When a thug smashes a beer bottle on the back of her skull, she merely gets irritated. Now, Ngo isn't about to rip the mantle of Most Badarse Female Martial Artist from Jeeja Yanin, but she demonstrates good moves. Johnny Tri Nguyen - who once did stunt work for the SPIDER-MAN film franchise and is a martial arts expert - may not be as explosive as, say, Tony Jaa, but, long-limbed and elegant, he exhibits a smooth flow. His kicks are fluid and whip fast and account for quite a number of his finishing moves. There's one electrifying bit where he leaps in the air and kicks three baddies. He also shows some decent ground work, executing some very nice grappling moves and joint-lock techniques. Naturally, CLASH, being a Vietnamese venture, features the traditional Vovinam discipline. But we also see bits of boxing, Muay Thai, aikido, and jujitsu, all these making for a satisfying eclectic mix. Heck, there's even a bout of tango, an endeavor which - according to Tri Nguyen in the DVD interview - is harder than martial arts.
The DVD's bonus stuff:
- A Conversation (in English) with Johnny Tri Nguyen and Veronica Ngo (00:10:34 minutes)
- Anatomy of a Fight Scene - cast interviews and behind-the-scenes training clips, including the occasional inadvertent bruise and bloodied nose and a side-by-side comparison of a fight rehearsal with the actual film footage (00:05:52 minutes, with English sub-titles)
- Cast of Characters - the actors talk about their roles (00:04:45 minutes, with English sub-titles)
- Music Video: "Tiec" by Little Wings (00:05:13 minutes)
- Original Trailer (English sub-titles available)