Monday 29 October 2007

Toronto After Dark - "The Rebel"

Set during the 1920s occupation of Vietnam by the French, "The Rebel" has a familiar story at its core. But when the familiar is executed this well, it can deliver a terrific movie-going experience - as evidenced by the spontaneous applause that happened several times during the Toronto After Dark screening.

In order to combat the rebels who are against the French controlling forces, local enforcement has been hired to find and quell any opposition. Three friends are all part of this "secret" team and though they may be considered to be traitors among their own people, they each have their own reasons for helping the French. However, after taking out one potential assassin (a young boy), Le Van Cuong reconsiders his reasons. Aided further by witnessing the unwarranted torture of a female prisoner, he decides to leave and essentially becomes one of the rebels.

As mentioned, there are a few familiar story points here bordering on cliche - the long term friends (who call each other brothers) suddenly found on opposite ends of a larger battle, the burgeoning romance between the new rebel and the long serving young woman, the evil French master of a prisoner camp who is sadistic, the sweeping music, etc. But when the story telling is this economical and moves the plot along with characters you actually like, you can easily forgive any shortcomings in originality. The journey is kept interesting and exciting by not derailing the proceedings - even the romantic storyline is kept reasonably at bay in order move towards closure of the final showdown everyone knows is coming.

And it gives room for the fights...The martial arts action in the film is glorious. Each fight follows naturally from the plot and they are fast, furious, exciting and done with little to no wires whatsoever. The After Dark audience, which you would expect have seen a martial arts fight or two in their time, cheered and clapped during several of these lengthy sequences. Johnny Nguyen (stuntman extraordinaire - he did the stunts in the Spiderman films) as our hero and Danny Nguyen are powerhouse fighters with incredibly quick moves and the fights between them are the best I've seen in a long time. Thanh Van Ngo, as the aforementioned young woman, does her own share of terrific work by beating the crap out of a whole slew of guys. The final sequence at the stopped train is just pure enjoyment...

The only real downside was the poor quality print that the festival folks were forced to use. The plan was to use a good quality print which was winging its way to Toronto - until it was stopped and held at the border. Organizers had to resort to a lesser quality print that had occasional jittery video, a number of sound problems and was actually missing the entire set of end credits. But fortunately, none of these issues lasted very long and did not take away from the experience. Congrats to the festival staff for having a backup plan in place.

So it was a great and well-attended showing in the end. "The Rebel" is touted as the most expensive film production in Vietnamese history. They spent their money wisely.

The film was preceded by a Canadian short feature:

The Bullet

A sheriff and his helpers ar eprepping to lynch another man when a mysterious stranger shows up. What does he want and why does he seem to care more about the sheriff than the man with the rope around his neck? All will be revealed...

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