3 user 18 critic

Lua Phat (2013)

1:28 | Trailer
Assigned to protect a small town in Vietnam, Dao arrives to fight against the crime boss; but soon his past catches up with him, threatening to destroy the cherished village.


Dustin Nguyen


Dustin Nguyen (screenplay)



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Credited cast:
Dustin Nguyen ... Master Dao
Van Veronica Ngo ... Anh (as Thanh Van Ngo)
Roger Yuan ... General Long
Thai Hoa Thai Hoa ... Hien
Ngoc Diep Ngoc Diep ... Van
Hieu Hien Hieu Hien ... Huy
Phi Thanh Van Phi Thanh Van ... Lan
Van Hai Bui Van Hai Bui ... Deserter
Nguyen Hau Nguyen Hau ... Tai Xe Gia
Quang Minh Do Quang Minh Do ... Bartender
Jason Ninh Cao ... Nguoi Chi Huy
Hoang Phuc Nguyen Hoang Phuc Nguyen ... General Long (voice)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Bui Minh An Bui Minh An ... Dam Thuoc Ha Cua Tinh
Phuc An Phuc An ... Cac Co Gai Quan Anh Trang
Duong Bao Anh Duong Bao Anh ... Cao Thu Nam 2


While on a mission to retrieve fugitives in Vietnam, Dao, a commander in the Emperor's army, finds himself in the middle of a deadly conflict raging between a tyrannical crime boss, and the peaceful town that he has under his thumb. But when Dao realizes that Ahn, the beautiful monk warrior who fled the Emperor's army is living a secretive new life there, Dao must choose between upholding his oath to the Emperor, and fighting to preserve Ahn's cherished town. Written by Grindstone Entertainment Group, LLC.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

sword fight | martial arts | See All (2) »

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for some violence and sexuality | See all certifications »


Official Sites:

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Release Date:

22 August 2013 (Vietnam) See more »

Also Known As:

Once Upon a Time in Vietnam See more »

Filming Locations:

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam See more »


Box Office


VND20,000,000,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

BHD See more »
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Technical Specs



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User Reviews

"I make a badass croissant"
17 December 2015 | by The_Phantom_ProjectionistSee all my reviews

Even though THE REBEL placed Vietnam on the map as a supplier of martial arts fare, the country's relatively meager output makes it easy to forget about that over time. With Vietnamese action flicks finding international release at a rate of maybe one every two years, the need for quality among these films is extra important, and disappointingly, the 2013 entry – ONCE UPON A TIME INVIETNAM - falls short. Exceling on some fronts, floundering on others, and simply overdoing it otherwise, this minor epic scrapes an average but unenthusiastic rating from me. It's easy to imagine how cool this could have been had it a bit more sense when it came to some important aspects.

The story: In a time when Vietnam is protected by an army of elite warrior-monks, one of their number (Dustin Nguyen) arrives in a rural town on a mission and is forced to confront his past in the form of a forbidden lover (Veronica Ngo).

The movie looks great, with a striking art design. A mixture of steampunk and video game-style fantasy makes for a visual tone that's simultaneously unique and familiar. I've never seen its likes on film before, and the producers keep this look consistent, with even the being CGI well-integrated. The story, on the other hand, is less consistent. The plot starts out as director Dustin Nguyen's take on YOJIMBO, but levels off into a family drama and a love angle between Nguyen and Ngo. The characters have their entertaining moments, especially Thai Hoa in his role as Ngo's husband, but they're not so intriguing that I'm on the edge of my seat to see how they work out their problems. Quite the opposite – I'm slumped in my chair, waiting for the matter of Ngo's son's paternity be solved so I can get back to the action scenes.

These action scenes are also a mixed bag. Nguyen can be one of the best kickers in the business if offered the opportunity, Ngo is still among our brightest hopes for a new female action lead, and B-movie dragon Roger Yuan – showing up in the last half-hour as the villain – always has something good to add, but their fights just aren't up to the standard karate junkies are looking for. For the most part, the brawls are modeled after modern Hong Kong output, which means that there's some wirework and a lot of unnecessary slow motion. These eyesores aren't omnipresent, and occasionally the choreography and pacing of a fight are good enough to power through these unwanted excesses, but unless you're a fan of overly-artistic kung fu, you won't find maximum enjoyment. Most action fans have seen these kinds of matches before, performed a lot better.

I'd love to see Dustin refine his style of action filmmaking, but if this is the kind of work he intends to produce in the future, I will be a lot less eager to see subsequent directorial efforts. Rent this as a take-it-or-leave-it adventure, but do not expect to find a new favorite.

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