Clash (Bay Rong) Review
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The few Vietnamese films I’ve seen have largely been historical dramas and art-house fare, so I was intrigued to check out Clash, a more straightforward action thriller. Early on, one of the characters remarks that their situation resembles a “cheesy Hong Kong movie”—and, for better or worse, he’s not wrong. Hong Kong filmmakers have long since set the standard for action cinema in Southeast Asia, and if Clash never quite rises above those established formulas, it still manages to do so with style.

Vietnamese pop singer Veronica Ngo stars as Trinh, generally referred to by the codename Phoenix. She’s a ready-to-retire underworld agent who’s been tasked by her boss to recover a laptop containing valuable information. To pull this last mission off, she assembles a team, including the laconic Tiger, skeevy Snake, comic Ox, and dependable kid Hawk. One turns out to be an undercover cop, one’s a traitor, and most won’t make it to the end credits. As the man said, it’s a Hong Kong-style action fest, so you can probably already guess who’s who.

From there, the film barrels through a series of action set pieces, reversals of fortune, revealed agendas, and even a tango before coming down to the inevitable showdown between Phoenix and her ruthless boss. Ngo carries most of the film well, backed up by Johnny Tri Nguyen’s too-cool Tiger. They’re both veteran performers, and they demonstrate more than enough screen presence to hold their own with a Western audience. The villains leave less of an impression, generally coming off as run-of-the-mill thugs or over-the-top clichés. Phoenix’s boss, with his penchant for white suits and opera music, is more than a little cartoonish, though he holds his own when it comes time to start throwing punches and kicks.

Despite the fairly generic story, Clash boasts some impressive visuals and a solid understanding of how to frame an action scene. Despite a rough ride through the 20th century, Vietnam remains a beautiful country, and both the gritty urban areas and the lush countryside figure prominently in the film’s sense of style, providing impressive backdrops for the many gun battles and martial arts duels. The latter are the film’s high points, delivering fluid fight choreography without relying on too many visual tricks or flourishes. Ngo comes off especially well, selling a thorough ass-kicking as well as any leading man.

There’s nothing wrong with following a formula when it’s done well, and the filmmakers behind Clash should take some pride in what they’ve accomplished. Vietnam may be a bit of the new kid on the block when it comes to the action genre, but if it can keep turning out work like this, it’ll find the same audience that Hong Kong has enjoyed for so long.

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