This movie is fantastic. The incredible martial arts choreography and physical talent of the stars is only one facet of a truly multi-dimensional work. In fact, it is extremely deep, and is as much a dramatic historical tragedy as it is a rousing action film.
Most martial arts movies use historical settings as either an excuse to let the kicks fly, or perhaps as a rallying point for historical and national pride. This movie goes far beyond those flimsy constructs. It deeply probes the colonial nightmare of Vietnam: the humiliation of occupation, the way it tears at every level of the social fabric, from city life, to villages, to institutions, to families, and male-female relationships. The way it corrupts the colonizers and the colonized. And the movie shows the true cost of rebellion: that one must be prepared to sacrifice life as one has known it...and the cost of rebellion will be paid by many more people than the individual who chooses to rebel.
The national pain of Vietnam is given no easy catharsis through rebellious violence, either. Indeed, the message of the movie seems to be that for all the physical power of the characters, nothing could change the inevitable grinding of the logic of colonization and conflict that gripped the country. The acts of rebellion the movie depicts certainly lead to more bloodshed, tragedy, and pain than any kind of triumph. The personal redemption of the hero is won through the blood and suffering of those around him.
For those looking for some great fight scenes (as I was when I put it in my player), it certainly doesn't disapoint. The gritty fights remind me of the choreography of Sammo Hung - but with the added flair of the traditional Vietnamese forms, and the high-flying style of the star, Johnny Nguyen.
The movie also features wonderful period sets, and the lush and beautiful scenery of Vietnam, both of which are characters in and of themselves.
In conclusion, this is an exciting and important film that should appeal to many different audiences, and which provides real insight into both the national identity and historical consciousness of Vietnam, and into the nature and social ramifications of colonization itself.