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Review: “Clash,” a martial arts flick for those who don’t mind derivative fun.

Review: “Clash,” a martial arts flick for those who don’t mind derivative fun. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.

When a movie begins with the image of two dead bodies, a gun and a sword arranged into the shape of yin and yang, you know you’re not in for an exercise in subtlety and restraint. And sure enough, the Vietnamese martial arts film “Clash” only gets more heavy-handed from there, with brooding heroes, cackling villains, and heartfelt meditations on the duality of cops and criminals. (The yin! The yang!) This is a movie with fight scenes so operatic they’re scored with actual opera music, and a mind-blowing shot of a single tear splashing off a gun barrel. As you can see, “Clash” is not lacking for sincerity.

It’s not lacking in fun either, provided you’re in the mood for fun that’s way over the top and as recycled as a box of Seventh Generation tissues. The plot concerns a bunch of badass gangsters assembled for a “Reservoir Dogs”-ish heist and given “Reservoir Dogs”-ish nicknames. (One guy even has a Steve-Buscemi-in-“Reservoir Dogs”-ish resistance to his cutesy “Reservoir Dogs”-ish nickname.) Knocking on if not completely busting through the fourth wall, the characters acknowledge that their new team and its extensive list of rules like “No bullshit questions” is “cheesy, like some Hong Kong movie!” And indeed it is. These self-aware mobsters also have extensive backstories to bring additional John Woo-ish flavor and moral complications to their underworld activities.

The movie isn’t original, but it’s clearly having fun with its influences. And it does at least deliver on the level of viscerally entertaining action sequences, the first I’ve seen to incorporate mixed martial arts moves into traditional punch-and-kick choreography. Plus, there’s something endearing about the way fights tend to break out in “Clash” at the smallest provocation, with very little attention paid to the standards of normal human behavior. Every time two or more people in the film have the slightest misunderstanding, they start beating the crap out of each other. (I kept waiting for someone to literally drop their hat and then kick someone in the face but, alas, no.) Yet if the sequences are largely unmotivated, they are also largely done with skill both in front of and behind the camera. Neither of the two ridiculously attractive leads (Johnny Tri Nguyen and Ngo Thanh Van) have the inventive acrobatics and timing of Jackie Chan or the pure physical gifts of Jet Li, but they’re never less than totally invested and totally believable.

04152010_JohnnyNguyenClash.jpgThough the cinematography has a certain monochromatic panache (cool blues for action scenes, warm earth tones in flashbacks), “Clash” isn’t so much a stylish film as it is a film about characters with a certain sense of style. There was probably an easier way for Nguyen’s Tiger and Van’s Phoenix to obtain that crucial bit of information at the nightclub, but there wasn’t a better way to look sexy while doing it than dancing an audience-distracting tango. Both actors look like major stars in the making, particularly Nguyen, who bears certain similarities to a young Clint Eastwood: casual handsomeness, a gift for silent intensity, a strong sense of moral outrage, and believable bursts of white-hot anger. All he’s missing are those gargling-with-rock-salt vocal chords and he’d be ready for a “Dirty Harry” remake. Someone get that kid a pack of Camels.

According to the film’s press notes, “Clash” is the highest grossing film of the year in Vietnam, and it’s easy to see why: solid genre thrills, attractive leads, and good stunt work. It’s the well-made foreign version of a film we’ve seen many times, if not always at film festivals. Largely cribbed from other movies, it does feature at least one alarming innovation I haven’t seen before: advertisements for the film’s corporate sponsors during the closing credits. They’re not exactly subtle either.

“Clash” is currently without U.S. distribution.

[Photos: “Clash,” Chanh Phuong Phim, 2009]

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Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

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Cancel it!

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Forgotten America

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Wedding Planners

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Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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