Zero Tolerance

| November 30, 2015

A young prostitute is dead in Bangkok and her father (Dustin Nguyen; 21 Jump Street), a former military operative, is determined to find out what happened to her.  Standing in his way is a variety of crime lords and slum bags, the most dangerous of whom being Steven (Scott Adkins), a powerful and ruthless drug dealer.

A while back I wrote an encyclopedia entry about Dustin Nguyen for a now defunct publishing company called Salem Press.  So somewhere out there, there is an encyclopedia of prominent Asian Americans with a 500-something word article about Nguyen and his career.  Interestingly, he’s been working fairly consistently over the past 30 years, but remains almost exclusively known for his work on the 21 Jump Street TV series.  The production of which was notoriously difficult due to star Johnny Depp’s hatred of for the project.

Here, Nguyen plays Johnny, a father trying to figure out what happened to his daughter, Angel, and determined to avenge her death.  The problem is that Johnny is way too temperamental to be leading any investigation.  He is merciless in his interrogation of suspects, and will kill anyone who says an unkind word about his daughter.  He’s then allowed to keep going without anyone of authority taking him down or arresting him.  In fact, he’s allowed to just keep going no matter what he does.  It lowers the stakes for his character that he doesn’t have to circumvent any authority, or raise any moral objections because his friends working for the police just enable his rampage.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to have a daughter who becomes a prostitute, and then gets killed as a result of her lifestyle.  Nguyen seems to be playing that part really well, but it’s his job and the movie’s job to make his rage relatable and grounded in reality so the audience is never left questioning his motivations.  It makes the whole anti-hero dynamic difficult to root for because as our hero he’s supposed to be grounded in some moral code, even if those morals are few and far between, or broken for a purpose.

The scene in which we are introduced to Scott Adkins’ character is my favorite of the film, and it made me wish we were watching more of his story than Johnny’s.  He doesn’t get enough screen time and that makes for a rather dull structure of Johnny investigating a lead about his daughter, finding a suspect, interrogating the suspect, getting pissed off, and killing the suspect.  Anything done over and over gets boring, even action.

Available on DVD from Lionsgate on December 1.

About the Author:

Joe Sanders Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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