31 May 2014 | MartinHafer
Very cinematic and lovely to look at...
I did not love Once Upon a Time in Vietnam, but I did like it and really respected the film. I saw a lot in it that impressed me about the Vietnamese film industry, as the film was every bit as cinematic and lovely as anything you'll find anywhere today. So, despite coming from a relatively small nation, the quality of the production itself was top- notch.
Dustin Nguyen wrote, directed and starred in this film. He plays Master Dao—a guy with super-amazing martial arts skills that seem to be fused with the supernatural. He is one tough and bad guy! This is one of the big strengths of the film, as the martial arts sequences are great—very high speed and appearing as if the actors are really beating the stuffing out of each other! This is not like the old films from Hong Kong with loud celery stalk sound effects and punches and kicks that clearly do not connect! But, in addition to being extremely intense, the Master and the other Masters in the film are able to do some extraordinary feats!
Dao lives in a bizarre futuristic dystopian world. While he drives a motorcycle and there is SOME technology, the towns look pretty much like American western towns of the 19th century and folks battle with swords, not guns. I have NO IDEA why this is the case, as even if the future is amazingly awful, there should be a few guns lying about and there won't be a need for these servants of the Emperor to use swords! But no matter—with this sort of Road Warrior sort of world, it's best not to think out all these story elements! Dao's job is to track down runaways from the military, as the term of service is life—and anyone who tries to leave with be killed—and Dao will do it! However, when he comes to one particular town, who he has come to kill comes as a bit of a surprise—as does what happens next. What exactly do I mean? See the film.
Although I liked the camera-work, music and action sequences, the film is not perfect. I found the story a bit confusing at points (mostly because WHY folks behaved the way they did didn't always seem consistent or understandable). There also seemed to be some dangling story elements that never really did get resolved. However, if you can just turn off your brain and enjoy the film for what it is, it is pretty spectacular. Worth seeing—particularly if you love martial arts films.