Tuesday, February 15, 2011

SFIAAFF 2011: BAY RONG (CLASH, 2009)—A Critical Overview

As early as July 2009, Twitch teammate Todd Brown was already anticipating the release of Bay Rong (Clash, 2009), the follow-up to the popular Vietnamese martial arts film The Rebel (2007), produced and written by its male lead Johnny Tri Nguyen, with Thanh Van "Veronica" Ngo as his love interest. As Todd cited, the news that Nguyen and Ngo had become a couple after playing romantic leads in The Rebel probably helped the film's exposure, and it went on to become one of the biggest hits in Vietnamese cinema history.

Nguyen had already gained notoriety as one of only two men in the world who could claim to have fought both Jet Li and Tony Jaa, plus he was the primary stunt man for the first two
Spider-Man films, but his departure from the U.S. to Vietnam to make The Rebel (and its follow-up Clash) exemplifies a new model of American-Vietnamese co-productions (along with Stephane Gauger's Saigon Electric). Reuniting with The Rebel's assistant director Le Thanh Son—Clash marks Son's directorial debut—Nguyen and Ngo play a mystery man who helps a hit woman finish her last job, one ass-kicking at a time. Released in Vietnam around Christmas, Clash was kicking some serious box office butt by January 2010 when Todd posted the trailer.

Clash then had its U.S. premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival where Jason Bailey at Fourth Row Center described it as "a clever mash-up of John Woo-style gunplay and whiz-bang martial arts, whipped up at top speed with the help of rapid-fire editing and a pounding, pseudo-techno soundtrack." Bailey further described the gunfights as having "a kinetic intensity, while the martial arts scenes that they bleed into, supplemented with knives and swords, are acrobatic and full of scrappy tension." Also at Tribeca, Cinematical's Scott Weinberg praised that Clash treats its audience "to (at least) a half-dozen hyper-kinetic action scenes that—get this—lack CGI, wire-work, or fancy FX of any kind. Better yet, the director actually takes the effort to frame and time some of the more elaborate ass-kicking combos, and the result is some old-school smack-down martial arts lunacy that's quite simply a whole lot of broad, basic fun."

Josh Hurtado continued the coverage at
Twitch when Clash was programmed in the Asian Film Festival of Dallas (AFFD) in late July 2010. His review objected to the obvious references to Reservoir Dogs and how the film's melodramatic elements weakened the action, but he concluded that "overall, Clash is a great time." Clash was then picked up for DVD distribution by Indomina.

Situated as the Centerpiece film at the upcoming 29th edition of the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF),
Clash co-stars Nguyen and Ngo will be in attendance and—along with Stephane Gauger (Saigon Electric, 2010)—will participate in a panel discussion "The New Matrix: Casting the Entertainment Mold of the Future." I'm looking forward to seeing Clash's attractive duo in the flesh. Along with its throwback to chopsocky aesthetics, I found Clash irresistibly sexy. Nguyen is a lean machine and Ngo is an angry beauty and when they tango, whoooo-boy! Likewise, when they square off against their French adversaries (who are taken by surprise in their skivvies), I thought for sure the film was going to burn up on the spot.

Cross-published on Twitch.

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