Asian Movie Pulse
By Panos Kotzathanasis
Published June 17, 2023
The film will be available on digital, including Amazon Prime Video, starting Friday, December 9, 2022.
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Khoa is an amateur hustler who just can’t get a break, with all his efforts resulting in disaster, and his debt increasing. Eventually, he decides to hit on bigger targets and moves to the playground for the rich and famous of Vietnam – Phu Quoc Island. There he stumbles upon a professional scammer, Tu, who, after some tribulations between the two, decides to take him in his group, which includes Uncle Nam and Ma Lai, and train him in order to teach him how to hit bigger fish. The efforts of the group are extravagant to say the least, but success comes consecutively, to the point that the team decides to go after even more significant targets. It seems, however, that they are not the only ones hustling, and soon a dangerous game begins, where who is the victim and who the perpetrator becomes quite unclear.
The film is essentially split in two parts, with the sequence where the group explains the reasons for turning into crime functioning as the dichotomy. The first part starts with presenting Khoa and his failures and continues with doing the same with Tu, who is, however, quite successful. This antithesis carries the first part to the end, with the radical differences of the two being both a source of comedy and an entertaining way to progress the story. And talking about comedy, this part is mostly humorous, in a style of humor, though, that I am not sure if it can apply to all, since the slapstickness occasionally goes overboard, as in the case with the “gay victim” of Tu for example. If you like your humor absurd and campy, however, you are bound to have some laughs here.
The second part, essentially starting with the aforementioned discussion, takes a different turn, as drama and action become more integral parts of the mix, although the latter was actually intense in the first part also. Furthermore, the appearance of the antagonist who seems to be at least on the same level, and the realization of the group that they are not almighty adds even more to the drama, while intensifying the agony, not so much about what is going to happen, but how.
And if the overall story is not exactly unprecedented, the technical aspects of the movie are really at another level. To begin with, the effort of the cast and crew to shoot all these different big scenes, as part of the group’s schemes, is astonishing on its own. The one in the pool, the jungle, the motorcycle-chasing on the street, the one in the cliff, and the final ones are all outstanding in their implementation, also showcasing the overall value of the production. The cinematography is astonishing in its polished brightness while the editing results in a rather fast pace that suits the episodic nature of the narrative to perfection. Furthermore, the swooshing cuts, in combination with the sound, are also part of the deadpan aspect of the comedy, in another element that works well. Lastly, the work done in the costumes, the set design and the music is also top notch, while the whole conception of all the tricks is definitely worth a kudos for the writers of the movie and Vo Thanh Hoa’s direction.
The acting is also quite fitting for the overall aesthetics of the film. Mac Van Khoa as the naive, unambitious Khoa and Anh Tu as the exact opposite highlight their antithetical chemistry nicely, while the moment they realize that they can be both victims results in a very appealing transformation for both. Trung Lun as Nam gives the element of the veteran while Ngoc Phuoc as Ma Lai adds a very appealing female note into a story that is male oriented. The overall chemistry of the cast is also quite good.
The style of humor of “Hustler vs Scammer” may not be for everyone, but the story, the impressive effort of the crew to create a number of varying scenes, all of which are impressive, and the overall entertaining atmosphere will definitely find appeal in fans of mainstream cinema.