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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Vanquisher

March 19th, 2011

Vanquisher - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

"From the company behind the Ong-Bak franchise..." As far as marketing phrases go, "From the company..." is damning with faint praise. It's almost as bad as "In the tradition of..." It's a sign that Vanquisher is an unknown commodity, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, and there have been many smaller films that I've reviewed that turned out to be great. Is this one of them? Will it continue the country's recent boom of martial arts hits?

The Movie

The film starts with secret agent Claire finding out what her latest mission is. There has been terrorist activity in Thailand and the Russians are asking the Americans for assistance, because they don't have any assets in the region. It will be Claire's job to drive the terrorist leader, Amil Mazayef, out of his stronghold on the border between Thailand and Malaysia. They will be using local special forces to help, but when the mission is over, Project Vanquisher will be "closed". There can be no witnesses, on either side.

In Thailand, a police officer (Sophita Sriban) is volunteering to become part of the special forces and is given the codename Gunja. She proves to be a very talented during training and is chosen to fight along side Claire and the rest of her American and Thai forces. The mission goes according to plan, mostly. This plan includes the deaths of all the Thai forces, but by a stroke of luck, Gunja escapes and goes into hiding.

Flash forward two years later, and there are still terrorist attacks happening in southern Thailand. The CIA discovers a hacker broke into the Vice President's computer and stole information linking them to the terrorist attacks. Now Claire is sent back to the far east to eliminate any loose ends, but when she runs into Gunja there will be one last confrontation. And when Claire betrays her latest allies, Gunja finds she has someone fighting on her side this time.

In-between there are about a dozen characters and sub-plots introduced, but by the end, I couldn't keep track of them anymore. The reason for this is mainly because while the film is from Thailand and the characters do speak Thai occasionally, it's in English. However, I'm quite sure most of the cast don't speak English, which leads to some various awkward line reading some of the time. ... Most of the time. Had this been a very high energy martial arts movie, this wouldn't have been a problem (it might have even added a certain charm). However, after the early betrayal, there's a long stretch of the movie where the plot it set up and not a lot of action takes place.

When the action does kick in, it's a better movie, but still has problems. Some are problems in logic, like why are there so many people running around Thailand with samurai swords? (Although seeing a fight that included three women in hijab headscarves wielding swords was not something I expected to see today.) The quality of the fight scenes were mixed with a bit too much rope-work, CGI, camera effects for my taste. (Please stop with the slow motion.) Some of the fights were too dark and not fluid enough. But others were highly entertaining. And having several women in the lead roles does help the movie stand out quite a bit.

On a side note, the film was supposed to feature Chotiros Suriwong, who in fact did film her role in the movie. But she appeared on the Thailand National Film Awards wearing a dress that was considered too revealing. How revealing? She was sentenced to community service and was made to read to blind kids. (You can Google the name if you want to see the dress.) After that controversy, her scenes in the movie were all cut. Maybe this would have helped clear up some of the confusion in the movie, but odds are she would have been just one more character I was failing to keep track of.

The Extras

I only have the Blu-ray to review, so I'm not 100% sure what is exclusive. There are two featurettes, the first being an 8-minute making of featurette that's mostly talking heads and behind-the-scenes footage. There is also another behind-the-scenes featurette with another 8-minutes of footage. Since both are presented in Standard Definition, I assume they are not Blu-ray exclusive. The disc is BD-Live enabled, but right now there are only some trailers to check out.

As far as the tech specs go, neither the video nor the audio will blow you away, as the film is a low-budget affair. (At least it's low budget compared to the average Hollywood release.) The movie itself is a little too dark and sometimes the shadows eat up some of the details. The audio is good with mostly clear dialogue and some use of surround sound speakers, but nothing that will blow you away.

The list price for the Blu-ray is just 10% more than for the DVD; however, Amazon's discount has the DVD at just $13 and the Blu-ray at $18. That's more than I would be willing to pay for the leap to high definition.

The Verdict

I like movies with strong female characters, so I was hoping Vanquisher would be really good, or at least better than the average martial arts import. It could have been really good, had they made the movie in Thai and either dubbed or subtitled the film into English. That wouldn't have fixed all of the problems, but it would have been a huge help. A bit more action, a little less plot, and the film could have been a blast. As it is, it's only worth checking out for fans of the genre, and even then the DVD or the Blu-ray are only worth a rental.

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