Vietnamese American filmmaker Victor Vu has made dramas that Vietnam has submitted as Best International Feature Oscar contenders — “Dreamy Eyes” and “Yellow Flowers on the Green Grass.”
But his latest is a straight-up B-movie, a sci-fi action pic about what happens after a Vietnamese surgeon-researcher masters the tricky business of head transplants. Its Vietnamese title is “Lôi Báo,” but for North American import, they cut straight to the point — “Head Rush.”
And you thought Switzerland was famous for its cheese.
It’s a somewhat slack thriller notable for the novelty of its locations and some top drawer fight choreography. Veteran stuntman Vincent Wang made his mark in “Bourne” films before choreographing the action in films such as “The Great Wall” and “Now You See Me 2.”
The story? Well, it’s got comic books, comic book movie action, rich villains who want to live longer, a femme fatale and super-secret head transplants managed on what look like stripped-down tanning beds.
Tam, played by the Costanza-named Cuong Seven (“Tracer,” “The Immortal”), is an aspiring graphic novelist working on a super hero fantasy as his wife Linh (Tran Thi Nha Phuong) keeps him and their son Bu afloat running a coffee shop. His helpful Uncle Ma (Hoang Son) is always around to offer advice and literary criticism.
But we can’t help but notice Tam’s operatic cough. And what’s an operatic cough mean in the first act? In operas, it’s usually tuberculosis. In infamously cigarette-crazed Vietnam, it means “lung cancer,” even if “I’m not even 30 years old,” though we never see Tam or anybody else lighting up
Our hero’s prognosis is dire, and he races through Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief in death-and-dying, lashing out at Linh, madly trying to finish up his years-in-the-making book. But Uncle Ma offers a second opinion. Visiting his little farm and its greenhouses, Tam is shown secret beds that “are for growing humans, not just strawberries.” Uncle Ma has been doing transplant research.
Tam would rather run into the woods and hang himself, but as Uncle Ma finds him in the forest just as he’s failed, a gang shoot-out and chase stumbles by. And what does that provide? A handy fresh corpse, a brawling brute we learn is called Nghia (Vu Tuan Viet).
Next thing we know, Tam is wearing a lot of turtlenecks — to cover the gruesome scar, y’see — and has the strength to lift cars off of crash victims, parkour up the sides of buildings to rescue fire victims and punch out purse snatchers.
His kid figures dad is a new superhero
But there are memories of people as well as physical training in his new body’s cells, Uncle Ma theorizes. And those folks from that body’s past see the dude in the news and start to wonder if their old quarry Nghia has survived his shooting and had plastic surgery.
The action beats here are fun, with wirework backflips, “bullet-time” slow motion and epic gunplay, fisticuffs and knife fights thrown into the mix.
Vu includes sequences that play out wild and wacky action from Tam’s comic-book-in-progress, and there’s even a mythic action fantasy sequence that’s animated as a story Linh relates to their little boy at bedtime.
But there’s no getting around how dopey this all is, right down to the B-movie cliches that make up much of the dialogue.
“Come down and PLAY,” a henchman taunts our hero, as every hoary thriller trope save for tying his wife to the railroad tracks is trotted out.
The picture practically stops in its tracks as the middle acts limit our action to a lot of talk and a few acts of minor derring do.
With a movie like “Head Rush,” you come for the action, but usually you hope for the cheese that comes with it to be a little better than this.
Rating: unrated, violence
Cast: Cuong Seven, Tran Thi Nha Phuong, Hoang Son, Ngoc Anh Vu, Vu Tuan Viet and Quach Ngoc Ngoan
Credits: Directed by Victor Vu, scripted by Doan Nhat Nam, Kay Nguyen and Victor Vu. A Glass House release.
Running time: 1:47