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The Guardian (2021) Review

The Guardian (Thiên Than Ho Menh) opens with a woman preparing to commit suicide and then appearing to lose her nerve and drop the razor knife she was going to use on her wrists. Instead, she sits in the bathtub holding a doll as the credits cut in and out. After the last of them, we come back to see her dead in a blood-filled tub.

The woman was pop idol Lam Phuong (Salim), who was in the center of a scandal over a leaked sex tape of her and three men. Adding to the media frenzy, the doll she had with her when she died was a Kumanthong doll, leading to talk of witchcraft and black magic. All of this pushes her backup singer Ly (Trúc Anh, Dreamy Eyes) into the spotlight and to almost instant fame. But questions remain about Lam’s death and her possession of the Kumanthong doll. And then people connected to Lam start dying violently.

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Director Victor Vu (The Immortal, Sword of the Assassin) and co-writer Kay Nguyen (Furie, Kung Fu Pho) have welded a showbiz drama onto what is supposed to be a creepy doll horror story which means we get both flashbacks of the band’s rise to fame and Ly’s rise from backup vocalist to star along with several songs. It’s probably about half of the film’s two-hour and seven-minute running time.

If you like that kind of story and generic pop music you’ll be happy about that. It’s not my thing however, and I found it boring and trite. Especially the love triangle between Lam, Ly and producer Khanh (Samuel An). That could all have been trimmed back to a subplot rather than taking over much of the film. I can’t imagine too many viewers tuning in for a supernatural thriller will be happy with all The Guardian’s backstage drama.

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Unfortunately, that’s not the only problem with The Guardian’s plot. The big problem is that it isn’t really a horror film. It is about horrible events, but the whole issue with the dolls is just part of an unrealistically complex revenge plot centred around date rape and blackmail. If it had been presented as a thriller, I might have reacted better to it, but sitting down and expecting supernatural horror only to get a cop-out resolution is infuriating. Especially when it takes over two hours of my time. At least Dolls and Annabellum: The Curse of Salem had evil dolls, no matter how static and unmoving they were.

To round out my bitching about The Guardian, it ends with a coda that basically blames the victims of the rapists and blackmailers. It all happened to them because they were hungry for fame and chasing stardom instead of studying for a respectable career. Unlike, as the voiceover tells us, their friend Huyen (Amee) who passed up a modelling career for her studies and lived happily ever after. I wonder if the filmmakers felt the same way about their caste? Or themselves for that matter.

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It’s too bad the plot was such a train wreck because The Guardian is beautifully shot and seems to have had a decent budget. If they had delivered a film that matched its description they might have managed to give Netflix another breakout film. Instead, it’s a dull and disgustingly smug and moralistic thriller that lacks thrills or characters you’ll care about. Hopefully, the upcoming killer shark film The Requin from writer/director Le-Van Kiet (The House in the Alley, Furie) will do more for the reputation of Vietnamese horror.

The Guardian was released in its native Vietnam on April 30th of this year. It’s currently available to stream on Netflix. There’s a Facebook page for the film, in Vietnamese, if you’re curious.

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