Set in the 1920’s, during the French Colonization of Vietnam, “The Rebel,” follows a Secret Service agent by the name of LeVan Cuong (Johnny Nguyen), who is growing tired of all the bloodshed of his countrymen. This growing turmoil for Cuong comes to a head when one of the rebels, Vo Thanh Thuy (played by the gorgeous Vietnamese pop star Ngo Thanh Van) is captured and tortured. Her patriotism is infectious and causes Cuong to break her out of prison and assist her in returning to the rebellion.
Two things that are vital when staging a fight sequence are geography and camera movement. “The Rebel” does both very successfully. The camera moves well to enhance some of the elaborate choreography that takes place. The screen direction and the layout of the players all make sense and is seamless when cut together. Director Truc Nguyen and Cinematographer Dominic Pereira are obvious students of martial arts movies and it shows with their work here. This is not to say that they are ripping anybody off either. What’s great about the action in this film is that everything is decidely and culturally Vietnamese. For this film, the actors utilized a Vietnamese martial art called Vovinam.
Upon being successful as a Martial Arts Film, “The Rebel” has all of the elements for a great adventure. It has a good historical context, but doesn’t get bogged down by the melodrama of it. It has empathetic, vulnerable characters that are completely passionate about their plights. It has a strong villain character Sy, played amazingly by Dustin Ngyuen (who is on a tear this year having had a great role in this year’s “Finishing the Game.”) It has well timed action sequences that all fit within the overall composition of the film. There are elements of romance that don’t feel too forced, and a great chase theme that plays throughout the film.
For being the most expensive Vietnamese production ever (costing around 1 million US) “The Rebel,” has achieved a very cultural action film that absolutely has international appeal. It appeals to the mythic sense of adventure on a very basic level, and is an excellent example of a well executed film. The Vietnamese Film community has made a big statement with this film, and I can’t wait to see where they go from here.