The cast and crew of the Vietnamese action drama The Rebel were arguably the biggest, most glamorous stars to hit the 2007 Bangkok International Film Festival.
Star Johnny Tri Nguyen, a Hollywood martial-arts stuntman who's doubled for the likes of Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man, was already well known to Thai audiences for his role as the villain in Tony Jaa's Tom Yum Goong (a.k.a. The Protector).
As they strutted the red carpet, answered questions at press conferences and mingled with the crowds, the chemistry between Johnny and his leading lady in The Rebel, Vietnamese singer and model "Veronica" Ngo Thanh Van, was evident.
Then add the pure star power of Dustin Nguyen, the '80s teen heartthrob who came up alongside Johnny Depp on 21 Jump Street. He was relaxed as he amiably chatted with me at a press conference, talking about Vietnamese and Thai cinema.
And then I saw The Rebel, and I was thrilled by the bone-breaking (literally!) martial-arts stunts, fluid choreography, high production values and the dedication to the story.
Directed by Truc "Charlie" Nguyen – also a super nice guy and fun to talk with – The Rebel is set in French colonial Vietnam of the 1920s. The story has Johnny as a Vietnamese-French secret policeman who switches sides and takes up the cause of the peasant rebels, in the process falling in love with the plucky heroine, played by Ngo.
Dustin, who at the time was coming off a critically acclaimed performance with Cate Blanchett in the drug-addiction drama Little Fish (in which he plays a guy named Jonny Nguyen), plays the invincible black-hearted villain with obvious relish. It was his first martial-arts role and first time as the bad guy.
Ngo broke a foot during the production but kept going.
Having recently watched Johnny's and Ngo's sophomore collaboration in Clash (Bay Rong), I was eager to revisit The Rebel, so I readily snapped it up off the shelf when I saw it last weekend in a Bangkok high-end shopping mall's DVD shop.
Thai distributor United Home Entertainment has picked up the version from Dragon Dynasty. None of The Weinstein Company's plentiful special features are offered, so no commentary track with Bey Logan and the gang. United only offers a few trailers for some of the other current movies they are distributing, like Kick-Ass. But there is the decent English dub done for Dragon Dynasty by the three stars. The Region 3 PAL disc also has a Thai dub and English and Thai subtitles; no original Vietnamese soundtrack though.
Without that ton of extras on the Region 1 Dragon Dynasty disc, I'm not certain how much of a bargain the Thai version is, but it's available from eThaiCD.