In order to develop our critical thinking and ability to interpret artistic works we were set the task of watching then reviewing two movies from the East Asian Film Festival that has become an annual feature at Coventry University. In addition to valuable analytical practice this also presented the opportunity to embrace another cultural medium and grow our global world perspectives.
Once Upon a Time in Vietnam
Written and Directed by Dustin Nguyen
Master Dao – Dustin Nguyen
Anh – Thanh Van Ngo
General Long – Roger Yuan
In his directorial debut Dustin Nguyen takes on the lead role of Master Dao, a Commander in the emperors army whose job it is to hunt down former members who have chosen to become deserters. His investigations lead him to a small town where he meets Anh (Thanh Van Ngo) who he shares a chequered past with and a town under siege from a mob warlord hell-bent on tyrannical rule. Dao must decide about his loyalty to the crown or fighting to save a town under siege, but he must choose quickly as his boss, General Long is about to pay a visit.
It is common in my experience to find that films of eastern origin seem to ignore the time line between fiction and fantasy and try to pass off the ridiculous as plausible hoping no one will really notice. This movie is no exception and we are expected to believe that Vietnam is a place where sword wielding marauders roam the land on high-powered motorcycles where magic is real and gravity is optional. But putting aside the creative oddities we have a classic storyline, where a mysterious lone stranger rides into town just in time to save it from the evil clutches of a cruel crime lord. Here East meets West and the parallels with Sergio Leones westerns are obvious but where one retains a constant air of tension and mystery the other descends into a farcical soap opera.
*Spoiler Alert from here on*
As it turns out our beautiful heroine (Anh) is a deserter who has found happiness in the arms of a simple baker where together they raise their son. However it turns out that this petulant child is not the biological sibling to her current husband and that Dao and Anh have a secret past that just so happens to coincide with the time of the little bastards conception. But before love has time to blossom and all is right in the world we discover than Anh was quite happy to put it about with anyone if the mood was right and enter General Long with his own claim to parentage.
This complicated back story begins to consume the real purpose of the movie as a good old-fashioned action film and the mobster plot which had so carefully been interwoven is quickly dispatched by the arrival of General Long.
Ultimately the big budget of this movie ensures that it is well made and the fight scenes are as outlandish and dramatic as you would expect of this genre. Embrace the comic book nature and put aside pedantic concerns of realism and you can easily find yourself enjoying this hybrid spaghetti eastern romp.