Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Rebel team back together for Monk on Fire

Vietnamese-American director Charlie Nguyen, his brother, actor-stuntman Johnny Nguyen and an unrelated Nguyen -- Little Fish actor Dustin -- had so much fun making The Rebel in Vietnam that they are doing another big action film in their homeland.

Lua Phat (Monk on Fire) is being described as a mix of wild-west action and martial arts, similar to Dynamite Warrior, but perhaps even crazier.

The film is being made by The Rebel team, but instead of Charlie directing, Dustin is the writer, director and star, with Johnny in a supporting role as well as singer-model-actress Ngo Thanh Van in the cast.

Twitch has an interview with Charlie Nguyen, which addresses more specifics about the plot, plus a rumor that Tony Jaa will have a cameo -- perhaps not too far-fetched since Johnny co-starred as one of the leading villains against Tony in Tom Yum Goong -- but Charlie denies the rumor and says it's unlikely, as he's trying to build a brand, or identity for Vietnamese action cinema. Here's an excerpt from the interview by Dang Ngoc Quang:

So what’s Lua Phat?

It’s a fantasy movie, a fable story in a tradition of a cowboy film crosses with martial arts genre in a Vietnamese content. Let’s think of a movie that contains elements from a movie about Chor Lau Heung and a Clint Eastwood movie. Of course it’s an action movie but it doesn’t have a very fast pace comparing with Hollywood action movies or even Dong Mau Anh Hung [The Rebel]. It will focus on the characters, their fates, and their relationships.

How about the story? And how did you get the idea?

Once upon an unknown time, in an unknown place, the country was being invaded. The King ordered everybody to go to the battle. There were many eminent monks living in the mountain that had to join the battle as well. In the war, they had killed so many enemies and their hands were soaked of blood. When peace comes again, these monks don’t have tranquil souls anymore. They are being haunted by the violence of the war and cannot go back to their monastery. And so begin their journey to find the inner peace they once had. So the main character (Dustin Tri Nguyen) is one of these eminent monks. Once he encounters a village by the river and he doesn’t know that this is the place will change his fate. He meets another eminent monk (Johnny Tri Nguyen) with whom he had many old scores in the past. Also, there is a mystery girl (Ngo Thanh Van) in the village. Love, hatred, fate, conflicts will lead these three people to an unexpected ending. At this moment, I cannot reveal much about the girl character and her connection with the other two because it might spoil the surprise of the audience in the future. But there is one interesting thing I can tell. Although the movie is half wuxia, half Western like I just said, these eminent monks don’t walk or ride horses. They ride motorbikes!!! (laugh) This is not my original idea. It’s actually from Dustin Nguyen and I don’t know how he ended up with such an idea. Please concern that I’m the executive producer of Lua Phat and the director is Dustin, not me.

Recently, there was a rumor that Tony Jaa will play a cameo in Lua Phat. Is it true?

No, it isn’t. In fact, we haven’t done the casting yet except for the three main characters. Dustin Tri Nguyen, Johnny Tri Nguyen and Ngo Thanh Van, they’re all familiar with the audiences after Dong Mau Anh Hung. I want them to become trademarks of Vietnamese cinema all over the world. One of the reason makes Chinese cinema famous is by people like Jet Li or Jackie Chan. I think Vietnamese cinema can approach the world this way. After two, three or four times, people will recognize Dustin, Johnny or Van. There’re many rumors about our plans. Recently I read somewhere that Lua Phat has one-million-dollar budget. It’s funny because we don’t really know the exact number yet. What we do know is that we’ll never have enough to do everything Dustin wanted. At least, Lua Phat is an action movie. Dong Mau Anh Hung is purely action.

The Rebel was one of the highlights of last year's Bangkok International Film Festival, playing twice and boosted by a visit from the cast and crew. Chatting with Charlie and Dustin at last year's fest was a personal highlight. They are both friendly, warm and patient professionals who love cinema, and it's great to see them be able to use their experience from Hollywood to boost the cinema of Vietnam, perhaps one day elevating it to the level of Thailand's or China's.

(Photo via the Thai Film Journal photostream on Flickr)

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