This review was originally published in May of 2019 as the film was still circulating buyers, long prior to its ad-supported streaming release on Tubi last April. This review is being republished in the wake of last week’s announcement by Nguyen for the film’s official release on Amazon Prime.
Jackie Chan Stuntmen Association member and burgeoning action star, actor Andy Long Nguyen fulfilled a dream back in 2016 with the production of Vietnamese martial arts comedy, Lục Vân Tiên: Kung Fu Warrior. It’s a milestone achievement for Nguyen who has come a long way from his heyday in Pforzheim to becoming one of the most prolific and active members in his field today – a career path paved in part with inspiration from one of the genre’s greatest cinematic heroes.
That notion gets extravagantly sprinkled throughout the film, shepherded by Hoang Phuc who shares numerous acting credits of his own including Clash, Hush and 2015 kung fu comedy, Kung Fu Pho. Intuitively, credits like these enough for an ample background for the kind of film Lục Vân Tiên: Kung Fu Warrior strives to be, albeit importantly with the aid of an inherently-devoted team of equally-aspiring stunt professionals – specifically the kind you’ll only find by sifting through the annals of YouTube indie action shortfilm history.
Planting a Vietnamese folkloric hero in a contemporary setting, we meet Lục Vân Tiên, a noble warrior donned in a knight’s garb on horseback, entering our realm through a inexplicable, vaguely-established portal from the heavens. He stumbles onto a film set whereafter he meets Teo (Huu Tien), a shameless grifter and street hustler who quits his job as a key grip and decides to tag along with Vân Tiên while scheming to see how he can use him to clear his personal debts and hustle an even quicker buck.
It’s not long after a brief noodle sesh where Teo tries to pass the bill onto Vân Tiên, only to learn that Vân Tiên doesn’t have any money. With Teo preoccupied, Vân Tiên spots a small gang of men chasing Nga (Kim Tuyen), answering to the name almost instantly as soon as he hears it. A brief chase ensues and Vân Tiên finally corners the four kidnappers and neutralizes them with near-ease.
The girl disappears, unfortunately, while Vân Tiên, under the impression that it was his long lost wife he was pursuing, tries to make do with co-existing in a world very much unlike his own while Teo keeps an eye on his latest investment. Their next stop is an outdoor stage whose director Teo also owes decides to stake Vân Tiên as a performer for that evening while Teo agrees to look for the girl he knows as Nga.
When the show starts, the same four goons from earlier follow-up their failed attempt to capture Vân Tiên, only to fail once more. At the same time, Teo crosses paths with Nga only to lose her again, and she eventually arrives in the care of a beautiful hostess (Diep Lam Anh) at a tea house. Little do either of them know that it’s the same teahouse frequented by Nga’s would-be kidnapper, Dasher Bui, who has also been retaliating against the mysterious figure – Vân Tiên – who foiled Nga’s capture twice.
Bui is also in cahoots with The Noble (Quang Thang), a trafficker who runs the local underground slave trade through the teahouse. With Vân Tiên settled in as Teo’s roomate, his journey ventures into a raft of hilarious first time experiences from learning about television, money and clothes, to discovering why it is you don’t poke miscellanious objects into live electrical outlets.
After a few more scuffles with Bui’s goonsquad while saving Nga’s life again, Vân Tiên soon gets a tip that could finally lead him to his wife. All seems lost after his prospects initially turn out to be a case of mistaken identity, although determinedly hard-fought search for his missing wife may yet be rewarded sooner than he realizes. Vân Tiên’s got a fight coming though, as Bui and the Noble have other plans.
Kung fu cinema fans get what they pay for with Lục Vân Tiên: Kung Fu Warrior: An ample blend of stylish action and often cartoonish comedy with a touch of romance all in a script written in a few weeks. Andy brings a commendable freshman performance to the role with actor Huu Tien supporting as Teo, whose character isn’t entirely all lowbrow and slapstick – His penchant for immaturity and dishonesty do eventually take an evolutionary turn, thanks in part to the role of Teo’s blind father, played Nsut Thanh Loc.
Tuyen’s Nga is a lost countryside girl swindled into the custody of Bui’s men with the promise of a better life. When she’s not a damsel in distress, she eventually finds her own footing as the story develops where it counts. Actress Anh’s key portrayal as the hostess of the teahouse lends an air of intrigue as to not only her character, but her purpose as to why she’s remained there for as long as she has.
Adam Lam’s Dasher Bui is a flamboyant gangster with just a few less eccentricities as Quang Thang’s character, The Noble, a crimeboss whose laciviousness knows almost no bounds. You get a few jarring moments from the quirky, odd comedy on this end as it’s moreso targeted to Vietnamese audiences than Westerners, but it doesn’t bite as much as deems all the more suitable for their roles.
With Andy wearing the hat of action director, Lục Vân Tiên: Kungfu Hustle is a proven feast on the eyes, host to astonishing fight scene performances, set pieces and memorable gags that allude to the very essence of classic kung fu comedy cinema in clear, visible tribute to Chan himself. Principally, fans of online kung fu action will notice Martial Club members Du Au, and brothers Andy and Brian Le (The Paper Tigers) throughout the film. Fans of two-on-one fight scenes will get many a kick out of watching our star go toe-to-toe with the Ruwwe brothers – Lorenz Hideyoshi and Felix Fukuyoshi of Young Masters who also contribute to the action cinematography along with Marcus Ketterer.
It’s worth noting that many of these talents have lately accrued formidable film and television credits in the last ten years or so thanks to their own profuse efforts and some serious help from their peers. It’s also that very tenacity that it so often takes to make a film with anywhere from zero to lower-than-usual or “fairly” low budgets, and remarkably, fans of the genre have plenty of examples to go on with films like Eric Jacobus’s Contour, Death Grip and Micah Moore’s Dogs Of Chinatown, Johannes Jaeger’s Kampfansage: Der Letzte Schüler, Rising Tiger Films’ Black Scar Blues, Z-Team Films’ Die Fighting, Jose Montesinos’s Barrio Brawler, Mike Moeller headliner One Million K(l)icks, 20th Century Fox’s Plan B: Scheiss Aüf Plan A from Reel Deal Action, and counting.
A 25-day endeavor made for cost of about $170,000 for an ambitious martial arts action movie, you can imagine that a film like Lục Vân Tiên: Kung Fu Hustle – one with grand scale fight scene spectacle and the kind of on-set manpower required to pull this sort of thing off – is no easy feat to organize and produce. Tack on the added impact of film politics typical of the industry and the role of online piracy, and at the very least you can identify with the frustration of being a filmmaker nowadays.
That it’s all a package deal people like Andy and director Hoang Phuc Nguyen are willing to accept as a means of pushing the needle forward says a lot about what needs to be done in hopes of honoring these artists the way they deserve. That includes leaving open the prospects of acquisition and release and with the film’s release this month on Amazon Prime, those prospects are now a reality – a hopeful precursor to seeing the Andy Long Stunt Team back in action once again – something which can’t happen soon enough.