The Rebel is an achievement of martial arts ability anchored in an intriguing tale of politics, power and betrayal. What's more, it is the most expensive movie ever produced in Vietnam.
The hard-hitting, high-kicking lead actor has fought opposite Jet Li and Tony Jaa and even though many may still not recognize him, most of the movie-watching public is familiar with his work – he is the man inside the Spider-Man suit. Taking on the roles of writer, producer, action choreographer and star, Johnny Nguyen breathes life into this project.
Le Van Cuong (Nguyen) is considered a traitor by his people. He and his brother in arms, Sy (Dustin Nguyen), are members of the secret police, working to eradicate opposition forces rebelling against the occupying French in the 1920s. However, when Cuong is stained by the blood of an adolescent would-be assassin and witnesses the brutal torture of the rebel leader’s daughter (Thanh Van Ngo), he questions if he is fighting on the right side of the battle. Meanwhile, Sy is doing everything necessary to gain the power of a government official.
The martial arts talent in this film is stunningly significant. Ngo is as impressive as Johnny, delivering staggering hits that stand up to any of the men’s stunts. Dustin is probably best remembered for his role in the ‘80s television series “21 Jump Street,” but here he displays his acting muscle as well as physical ability. Johnny is at the center of this spectacle, providing expert co-ordination and rendering extraordinary onslaughts, while sincerely portraying a man torn between loyalty to his country and his career.
Although the story may not be original, it is a stronger narrative than many martial arts and/or action films can claim. The film does not rely on special effects to retain the audiences’ attention; instead, the simple story is driven by good action sequences in various locations and plausible acting. These elements combine to produce a gripping film worth every penny.