Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tribeca ’10: Clash

The mysterious Black Dragon is a criminal mastermind, who envisions himself a chess master, controlling people’s lives as if they were pieces on the board. That approach just isn’t going to fly with Quan though. You can tell he is going to be trouble, because he is real quiet in a stone cold tough guy kind of way in Lê Thanh Son’s Clash (trailer here), a Cinemania selection of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

Clash opens with a trippy prelude rife with symbolism, alerting viewers this film is staking out some seriously operatic martial arts territory, a la John Woo. However, it quickly settles into gritty, kill-or-be-killed action. The beautiful and mysterious “Phoenix” has hired a group of ex-cons to steal a valuable item from a gang of bald French gangsters. Actually, the MacGuffin is a laptop loaded with Vietnamese national security information, but the film does not really care what it is and neither should you. It’s just a pretext for a whole lot of fighting.

In addition to the strong silent Quan, Phoenix also recruits the annoying Cang, who carps and moans incessantly. Obviously, he is going to be trouble she does not need. Unless she acquires that laptop for the sinister crime-lord, she will never see her daughter again.

If your idea of entertainment is watching an attractive woman kick the snot out of low life thugs, than Clash has the goods. Ngô Thanh Vân (a.k.a. Veronica Ngô, a.k.a. NTV) is a truly striking martial arts heroine. Clearly the real deal in her action scenes, she also convincingly carries the film’s dramatic load, almost single-handedly. Indeed, her off-screen partner Johnny Tri Nguyen is a pretty inexpressive protagonist, even by genre standards, but he is all kinds of bad in fight sequences, so he earns a pass.

Clash is the helming debut of Lê Thanh Son, who served as an assistant director on The Rebel, the international cult favorite which also starred Ngô and Nguyen. If that means something to you, it actually probably means a lot. While he injects a tragic sensibility into the proceedings, he still maintains a blistering pace and his action scenes are cleanly staged, thankfully without any motion-sickness inducing shaky cam. In fact, it is a surprisingly handsome film, thanks to Dominic Pereira’s glossy cinematography.

As martial arts cinema, Clash is relatively ambitious. With plenty of adrenaline-charged action, all the classic genre archetypes, and an impressive star turn from Ngô, it is a thoroughly enjoyable meathead movie. It screens during Tribeca on Friday (4/23), Saturday (4/24), Thursday (4/29), and the following Friday (4/30).