Once Upon a Time in Vietnam


Director: Dustin Nguyen
Year: 2013
Rating: 5.0
Country: Vietnam

I guess every country has to have a few martial arts films and this one is from Vietnam though it stars and is directed by a fairly familiar name - Dustin Nguyen. After establishing himself in American TV (he moved to America from Vietnam in 1975 at the age of thirteen) with 21 Jump Street, he moved over to Vietnam and has done some acting and directing there. This was his directing debut and it unfortunately shows it.

Flashbacks within flashbacks is rarely a good sign and I am still trying to figure out what the opening scene had to do with the rest of the film. It feels very much like Asian TV with lots of melodrama, a clearly limited budget, everything looks fake and it moves along like a slow munching cow. I was surprised at how much it felt like I was watching a Thai TV show with lots of bad crass comedy thrown in. It is in theory an action film and even here much of it isn't that well done - until the final 20 minutes where suddenly it turns into a decent film with a lengthy and well-done fight. Maybe they were learning as they went along.

It is kind of Shane meets Martial Arts if Jean Arthur was showing more cleavage and had once been a kung fu master who gave it all away for a life on a dusty ranch. Nguyen is Dao (Shane) a member of a Monk warrior class who have protected their nation for generations from invaders. His special skill seems to be tracking down Masters who have deserted the monkhood and dispensing punishment. Now he has been sent for a wife of a baker and mother of a son who left nine years ago to get away from all the warring. She also has a history with Dao. Played by the gorgeous Veronica Ngo, who I see was in The Last Jedi but I can't recall her I admit. Vietnam still doesn't have much of a film industry and anything is welcome. This was just a stepping stone I expect.