On a Theoretical Level, 'Vanquisher' Should Be a Good Time

Ninjas, assassins, the CIA, and terrorists combine to form a tepid, plodding action film that could have been something great.


Director: Manop Udomdej
Cast: Sophita Sriban, Jacqui A. Thananon, Kessarin Ektawatkul
Distributor: Magnet Releasing
Rated: R
Release Date: 2011-03-22

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.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.