Movie News & Reviews

Bad, but pretty, girls rule in 'The Rebel'

When the rebellion rolls around, you'd better sign on board for thebig win, because if movies have taught us anything it's that therenegades always win.

Why? Point to their energy and idealism, sure,but the real reason the rebellion always triumphs is that they've gotall the hot chicks.

How can you lose when you've got Princess Leia and Trinity on yourside? You can't, that's how. Your side could be hurling pine cones attheir TrampleBot 9000 and you'd still come out on top. This week,Martial Arts Month takes us to 2006's The Rebel, where the badgirls are as deadly as they are pretty.

In 1922, Johnny Nguyen is a member of an elite Vietnamese forcetrained to stamp out anti-colonial rebellion. But he's grown weary ofthe bloodshed on both sides, and when his unit captures Thanh Van Ngo,the daughter of the rebel leader, he seeks redemption by helping herescape back to her father.

While some martial arts films are little more than a string of fightsglued together by a few scenes of men yelling at each other aboutrevenge, The Rebel goes the opposite route. In placing itsstory of love and betrayal front and center, it's a welcome surprisewhenever a fistfight breaks out to interrupt the drama.

Not to say the clobberings are infrequent. And rather than more kungfu, The Rebel's leads practice vo thuat, which I believe isVietnamese for "I am now going to use my kicks and elbows to reduceyour skull to a coarse pink mush."

Explosive and torque-heavy, thisstyle is less about precise blocks and strikes and more about breakingyour arm in half and then kicking your head into low Earth orbit.

Yet all this power barely dents Dustin Nguyen, Johnny Nguyen'spartner-turned-nemesis. The dude's skin can stop steel blades, addinga small but curious supernatural element to what's otherwise a prettyrealistic action movie.

The upside to dealing with a guy who's almost invincible: when youfinally figure out how to kill him, it's invariably rad as hell.

Sweet as this is, the movie isn't without flaws -- its plot isn'tterribly original, it sometimes veers towards melodrama, and while itscharacters' relations to their parents are interesting, it feels asthough director Charlie Nguyen doesn't always have a firm grip ontheir meaning.

But it would be worth it for the little-known fighting style alone.With solid drama and some menacing villains to back that up, TheRebel offers a new look at an established genre.