Look, Martial Arts, I think it’s time we had a chat. There’s a deal in place of which you must be aware – you either appear in proper films which happen to involve fighting, in which case we review them properly, or you provide the only distraction in lowest-common-denominator rubbish which I wouldn’t make my dog watch even if I had one. Either option is fine. What isn’t fine is making a sub-standard thriller and then trying to enliven it with high-kicks every time the plot struggles a bit. Alright, well if you already knew that then what the devil excuse do you have for Clash?
The content of the next sentence takes a good forty minutes of screen time to become apparent, but I’ll treat you. Trinh (Van Ngo) is a MIWLF (Mum I Wouldn’t Like to Fight) whose daughter is abducted by a mob boss who promises to return her after Trinh has completed a series of taxing missions to retrieve a mysterious and valuable laptop – it’s essentially a Labours of Hercules/Pulp Fiction/Madeleine McCann three-way mashup, if you can cope with that mental image. In perhaps the only scene of the film where she doesn’t think with her boots, Trinh promptly acquiesces and gathers a team of pseudonymous sidekicks (Tiger, Snake, Hawk and Ox – guess which one is the tubby comic relief?) with which she will bring the thunder. And bring it she does; until you’ve seen a huge tattooed Frenchman in his boxer shorts get stabbed and then have his legs stretched apart until his hips pop, you can never fully appreciate the vital role trousers play in our society.
Clash isn’t a bad film per se, it’s just that nothing about it is good. The plot is slow, frequently incoherent and overwhelmingly driven by the twin magnets of the arbitrary laptop and Trinh’s absent daughter, with no discernable character motivation for any of the other leads. Thanh Van Ngo does a reasonable job with one-dimensional Trinh, and Johnny Nguyen is certainly cool and chiselled as cool, chiselled, BORING romantic lead Quan – it probably helps when you write your own role – but the story is so underdeveloped that there’s never any real connection with the story. Even the fight scenes are dull, with amplified thuds giving a vaguely cartoonish air to the uninspired choreography. As we discussed earlier, Martial Arts, you either belong in proper films or tongue-in-cheek nonsense; Clash wasn’t far off being watchable, but it couldn’t survive having so much energy diverted from its plot to its fists.