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Vanquisher

Director: Manop Udomdej
Cast: Sophita Sriban, Jacqui A. Thananon, Kessarin Ektawatkul

(US DVD: 22 Mar 2011)

On a purely theoretical level, Vanquisher sounds like a good idea.  Hell, Vanquisher sounds like a great idea.  There are ninjas, international terrorists, super-secret covert operations, and nubile young action heroines, all brought to you by the Thai studio responsible for films like Ong Bak, Tom Yum Goong, and Born to Fight.  Unfortunately, Vanquisher fails to deliver on the initial promise, and winds up a jumbled, often boring, attempt at an action film.


Gunja (Sophita Sriban) is a member of the Royal Thai Police, and after wowing Claire (Jacqui A. Thananon), an American CIA operative, with her slow-motion sword skills, she is selected for a high-risk mission to track down a high mucky-muck in Al-Qaeda who is hiding out in Thailand.  Claire has strict orders to “close” the mission, code-named “Vanquisher”, which means killing everyone involved.  Gunja, however, survives the assassination attempt, and returns to her life as a cop as if nothing happened.


In a move that writer/director Manop Udomdej uses over and over again (four times in the first 20 minutes), you jump over large chunks of time with a little on screen note.  The first time is two years, but weeks, months, and days all pass in a similar manner.  This mishandling of time is where the plot starts to come off the rails, but it’s not the only problem. Ultimately, the story tries to be so overly complex that you never really know what is going on.  Through a chance encounter, Gunja and Claire meet again, only this time Claire is trying to stop a massive terrorist attack, or may be behind it, and there are agents, double agents, fall guys, hit men, hit women, assassination attempts, and a bunch of other nonsense that doesn’t make a lick of sense, and share only the most tenuous of causal and logical connections.  And then ninjas show up to further complicate matters. 


Among all of the issues with Vanquisher, perhaps the biggest is that there is no central figure to identify with or even root for. The film should belong to Gunja, early on she’s set up at the protagonist, but it shifts focus from Gunja to Claire, to a guy who may or may not be a terrorist, to Sirin (Kessarin Ektawatkul), and so on, but never spends enough time with any of character to position them at the forefront.  No one has a concrete goal or motivation, and you never forge any connection with anyone.  Gunja doesn’t even want to stop Claire, or exact revenge, their reconnection comes across as little more than coincidence.


All of this superfluous plot confuses the film and weighs down the pace, but it could be forgiven if there was a bunch of kick ass action.  But the predicament with the narrative ensures that there is no action for long stretches of celluloid, and Vanquisher gets painfully boring and preposterous.  When the action does finally kick in near the conclusion, things pick up a little (it’s virtually impossible for a movie with this many ninjas not to at least be entertaining), but even then it is only just okay. The editing is jumpy, and instead of letting the actors, who obviously know what their stuff, fight, the action sequences are hacked up into shots of punches being thrown, followed by quick cuts to reaction shots of people pretending to get punched and kicked. 


There is a guy on fire, and Gunja does kill a guy with a three-ring binder, so Vanquisher is not completely without high points, but overall, it is never as good as it could have been. The DVD comes with a mildly interesting making-of feature that is primarily Udomdej talking about the genesis of the film—he wanted to make a female led action film (this was before Chocolate blew up).  There is also a collection of behind the scenes footage, which is nothing more than that, video clips from the set cut together with no continuity or context.

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Brent McKnight lives in Seattle, and is working feverishly to finish his degree in creative writing through the University of New Orleans Low-Residency MFA Program. His thesis is a post-apocalyptic, zombie, spaghetti western, much to the chagrin of most of his advisors. He likes dogs, beards, and Steven Seagal, and rants about movies at thelastthingisee.blogspot.com and BeyondHollywood.com. Recently he fulfilled a lifelong goal, appearing as an extra in a zombie movie.


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