November 10, 2008

ONCE UPON A TIME IN VIETNAM : A brief history of Indochinese action.

Our release ‘The Rebel’ is bringing a whole new flavour of Asian action to the mainstream audience, as Vietnam comes into its own in terms of commercial film-making. Though its own emergence onto the world cinema stage has taken some time, the troubled history of this beautiful nation has provided inspiration for many earlier efforts from eastern movie mavens.

Throughout the history of Hong Kong cinema, the turmoil of China’s neighbour nation has occasionally been featured as ‘noises off’, or else taken centre stage. In ‘Enter The Dragon’, Roper (John Saxon) and Williams (Jim Kelly) are former Vietnam war buddies. At the start of Tsui Hark’s ‘Once Upon A Time In China’, an imperial fleet is sailing to fight the French in Vietnamese waters. In the Corey Yuen directed ‘She Shoots Straight’, a Golden Harvest-produced vehicle for Sammo Hung’s wife, Joyce Godenzi, the villains are a group of Vietnamese boat people who bring their brand of guerilla warfare to the streets of Hong Kong. Alfred Cheung’s underrated thriller ‘On The Run’, starring Yuen Biao, features actress Pat Ha as a Vietnamese hitwoman. Maggie Q, who is herself half-Vietnamese, plays a Saigon-born sniper in my own ‘Dragon Heat’ (out now on Dragon Dynasty).

John Woo’s epic ‘Bullet In The Head’ is Hong Kong’s most acclaimed Vietnam war themed film. The film tells the tale of a trio of disaffected Chinese youngsters who set off to make their fortune in Saigon. Though critically heralded, and a firm favourite among Woo’s fans, the film was not particularly successful in his native country, largely because Hong Kong audiences had little awareness of war, nor interest in it. They preferred much lighter cinematic fare, which, given the commercial nature of the industry, explains why so few Chinese films had addressed the war overtly.

One that did was Sammo Hung’s Asian Rambo jam ‘Eastern Condors’, which manages to mix and match elements from virtually every war movie ever made. The premise is Dirty Dozen-meets-Guns of Navarone: prisoners are granted their freedom if they can destroy an arsenal of weapons), and Hung finds room for Russian roulette (‘The Deer Hunter’), Dr. Haing S. Ngor (‘The Killing Fields’), pig-tailed Vietnamese lady guerillas (‘Full Metal Jacket’). Former stuntman Yuen Wah gets a star-making turn as a manic Viet commander, and later played a killer of the same nationality in the afore-mentioned ‘She Shoots Straight’ (AKA ‘Lethal Lady’). With ‘Eastern Condors’, Hong Kong audiences were once again turned off by the dark nature of the film, and Hung soon returned to making action comedies.

(Though Hung made no further Vietnam-themed pictures, his company, Golden Harvest, had years earlier produced the underrated war drama ‘The Boys In Company C’, which in many ways prefigured Kubrick’s ‘Full Metal Jacket’.)

Whereas Woo doubled Vietnam in Thailand and Hung in The Philippines, Tsui Hark, who born in French Indochina, actually shot his war-themed epic, ‘A Better Tomorrow 3: Love And Death In Saigon’. Tsui had produced the earlier, John Woo-directed ‘Better Tomorrow’ films, but, by the time the third was being developed, he and Woo had parted ways, and Tsui took the director’s chair himself. In this prequel, we learn how Chow Yun-fat’s character, Mark, learnt his gunplay skills from the late Anita Mui, before falling foul of a Vietnamese warlord. The film earned a place in the history books as the last commercial actioner filmed in Vietnam until ‘The Rebel’, 17 years later. (It’s also an upcoming Dragon Dynasty release, along with the previous two films in the ‘A Better Tomorrow’ series.)

Though Hong Kong has proved resistant to Vietnam war themed epics, action performers from the country have left their mark on the genre. The afore-mentioned Maggie Q was born to a Vietnamese mother, and made the successful transition from a modeling career to starring in such high octane Hong Kong actioners as Gen-Y Cops and Naked Weapon, before making the move to Hollywood. Christy Chung, who is fully Vietnamese, made her mark opposite Jet Li in ‘Bodyguard From Beijing’ (soon to be released on Dragon Dynasty) and a dozen other Hong Kong features, before relocating to the Chinese capital.

‘Rebel’ star, producer and choreographer Johnny Nguyen actually became a star in Thailand before making it in his native country. He played a memorable bad guy opposite Tony Jaa in ‘The Protector’, which was the first US theatrical release of our label, and also plays a scar-faced villain in the long-delayed Thai actioner ‘Power Kids’.

Previously, Vietnam has been little more than a shadow cast over Hong Kong cinema, but, with ‘The Rebel’, the nation and its industry move into the sun, and I’m certain that its film-makers have only just begun to deliver on their evident promise.


Looking very much forward to the Dragon Dynasty REBEL release.. I already own the scandinavian release. The movie and cast does a great job! It's a fantastic film. I'm looking forward to all the extra material you guys have been cooking up at Dragon Dynasty and as always the enjoyable commentaries!! Keep up the great work Bey!!
- David, Copenhagen, Denmark | 2008-11-11 14:55:20
A Better Tomorrow is one of my favorits cant wait to finally see number 3
- bruce, alaska | 2008-11-11 23:25:55
When is "The Killer" due out?
- Capt. Chong, Europe | 2008-11-20 14:44:14
Really good movie. I give it like 4 stars. Thank you.
- Some one, In California, USA. | 2008-11-28 12:32:42
I want to know if you will be bringing Ong Bak 2 to Dragon Dynasty and if you will release any Filipino or more Korean martial art films.
- Andre J, Beaufort, South Carolina | 2008-11-29 16:08:11
I can't wait to see this one. Does anyone know what martial arts are used in Vietnam? Movies from China, Japan, Korea and Thailand have their own martial arts, but what would be used in Vietnam?
- Robert Whittaker, Columbus, Ohio | 2008-12-02 19:03:56
U guys are a riot on the commentary for this one! the movie is great im a huge fan of japanese and korean movies Hong kong and mainland china. I didnt even really know about these guys other than johnny and dustins american work
- TJ, Hermon Me | 2008-12-06 15:47:04
Thanks for releasing more Jet Li movies. DD is god!!
- Andre J, Beaufort SC | 2008-12-09 23:23:59
eastern condors deserves a dragon dynasty treatement release, until then im still keeping my vhs tai seng copy, by the way,thank you for writing your masterpiece : hong kong action cinema!!!! one of the best birthday present given to tell the people at dragon dynasty to release the classic ti lung movie with the butterfly tattoo!!!(you know to one i mean,nudge!nudge!wink! wink!say no more!!) happy holidays mr. logan
- alain, gatineau, quebec. | 2008-12-13 16:00:18
Awesome film! A must have for genre fans!
- huewilly, California USA | 2008-12-14 15:50:29
I purchased the rebel and enjoyed it very much, i recommed this movie to all mma fans.
- franklin rivera, tampa, fl. usa | 2008-12-18 12:52:59
Please releast a bittersweet life on DVD
- mike, visalia CA | 2008-12-19 03:15:32
Great movie, loved it from beginning to end.
- Israel C M Rorie, Akron Ohio | 2008-12-30 17:12:35
the rebel was an awsome flick, cant wait to see what else nguyens have to offer later on. glad to see protege is coming out, But when, whats with not giving us a month for release, at least. i hope ong bak 2 comes out on DD but i am sure ti will be a while since it just barely got released in theaters in thailand but glad it finally got finished. the dvd i am wating for is Fatal Move, seeing the awsome trailer in all its bloody glory, was pretty cool and looked like it wouuld have some great action but, i am still waiting, c'mon i want this film very badly. oh by the way Bey if ur reading the comments, your commentaries are great and i love that i can finally see some hard to find films with actual special features.
- Nik, Manchester New Hampshire | 2009-01-16 17:36:59
Sometimes it's really that simple, isn't it? I feel a little stupid for not thinking of this myself/earlier, though.
- Julius-Netz, MESSAGE | 2009-07-28 16:28:34
Hey nice post .... Keep up the great work
- rachel, MESSAGE | 2009-08-05 15:59:53
Hi! Great post Tnx!
- accinisispall, MESSAGE | 2009-08-14 05:12:07


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