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Once Upon A Time in Vietnam, a martial arts period spectacular, is the second of a new seam of Asian movies to be distributed by Incubate in Australia, this from Dustin Nguyen, who also stars. It opens in Melbourne (Cinema Nova, Village Century City, Village Sunshine) on October 17, and in Sydney (Event Cinemas George Street and Liverpool)) on October 24.

With its historical perspective and a full load of martial arts action, the film nevertheless begins in moody style with a lone muso playing a single string instrument attached to a rough log – yet he manages to evoke a haunting Spanish musical motif. Watching him is a mysterious hooded stranger … 

Amongst the fights and novelties we may have seen elsewhere are some things we haven’t including innovative use of a timber pillar. The serene moments are effective, beautifully lit and composed. But fans of the genre will be more interested in the beautiful women, the sexy and raunchy scenes, the wonderful metallic shoulder pads and the occasional humour. There is also a touch of mystical superpower stuff …. oh, and blood.

But as a piece of cinema, the film elevates the innovation level by creating a fantasy world where swords and motorbikes co-exist.

After 30 years away, actor turned director Dustin Nguyen returned to Vietnam to appear in a historical action film, The Rebel, in 2007. He told the Sydney Morning Herald he was feeling positive about the progress that's being made in his country’s cinema. Arthouse films made by directors such as Tran Anh Hung are best known internationally, he says, “but there is a burgeoning commercial cinema. It's a small community and I kept meeting people who told me, 'You should come back and be part of this new wave of Vietnamese cinema'. And I was enjoying the kind of roles I was getting. I thought, 'I'll give it a try'.''

He found partners, formed a production company, and started producing and writing.

Incubate’s Michael Robbins is hoping these elements will help the film cross over from th ethnic Vietnamese market to mainstream audiences. Incubate’s first foray into Vietnamese cinema was The Lady Assassin, a couple of months ago. 

Published October 17, 2013

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