Film Review: Echo 8

Maria Tran as Echo 8 in nightclub scene from film
Maria Tran as Echo 8 photo by Phoenix Eye Films

Echo 8 Film Review

By Indigo Willing

Maria Tran is tough, sharp and shines brightly like an assassin’s most treasured weapon in Echo 8, which is her new co-directed action feature film in Australia (with Takashi Hara and written by Elizabeth H Vu). It’s also Australia’s first female-led action movie. Not that Tran’s a rookie. She’s a young Vietnamese Australian filmmaker who travels between here and the US and has been steadily building up her craft as an actor, director, writer, multicultural film festival and projects facilitator and more, while steering the action and martial arts genre full steam ahead onto the big screen. And like many of her contemporary Asian Australians (AA) on the screen and stage, she can more than match her overseas counterparts. Tran is also someone who is driven to ensure that her collaborators’ acting, diverse production skills and martial arts training is fully showcased and is given space. There’s a fire in the belly of the writing, the acting and the production, where cast and crew flourish as individuals yet also uplift their communities and their stories along with them.

The story of Echo 8 introduces us to a beautiful and dangerous woman assassin, codename ECHO 8, who is sent into a house for a mission. But rather than a predictable story of finding easy answers and quickly conquering her nemesis, she must navigate a path riddled with unanswered questions. The narrative is at times light-hearted, and has a cheeky humour, but its heart is tied to deeper themes of family, migrancy, political corruption, strained loyalty, personal secrets, and questions of belonging and connection, all things that endanger an assassin. It is in some ways an allegory to the AA experience where different generations have competing imperatives and for survival, must make it through some haunting situations, but cuts through being pretentious. The actors and stories presented are real despite many having highly trained fighting abilities. We get to spend time through the screen with down to earth people, who convey clear vulnerability from their hardships and warm humour and affection for those close to them.  

Tran (Echo 8) is a consistently powerful energy and with her breadth of talent, brings confidence, strength, humour and fun to the role with the type of sass and don’t mess with me aura of women action stars of the 1980s (a golden era with kick ass women who were unstoppable forces). When it comes to the villains, there are some classic bad guys with a strikingly photogenic Takashi Hara as the scheming, and lethal Agent 5, and older actors like Mike Leeder (Z12) and Felino Dolloso (Mercardo) soaking up each scene with their mature looks, hardened composures, and strong commanding stage presence. The young actor Eliza Nguyen (Anna) adds an innocence and sincerity to her performance that is endearing and balancing. Gabrielle Chan (Hanh) yet again proves to be one of the most important AA actors of this era. In Echo 8 she takes her role right into the audience’s hearts with her ability to portray someone carrying unspoken intergenerational trauma, a refugee’s strength, and conflict from choices imposed and with violence always looming. There are also scenes that are nail bitingly suspenseful, sinister, good fun, and showcase great martial arts and choreography, a credit to Tran, Takashi Hara (Agent 5), David Vuong (Delta 1), Michael Quan (Duc) but also actors with smaller roles like the night club thugs Tung Le, Waimun Tam, Chris Sontowski. Bobby Le and Jack Ngu.

The feel and look of Echo 8 is dark and suspenseful, owing to Adrian Castro’s music and sound, a soundtrack by Tina Alcorace (also with a song ft T-Jae and the Rise Academy choir), production design by Tommy Ge, Nancy Trieu and Quyen Chung and the cinematography of Adam McPhilbin, Nancy Triue and Emily Bui. More on the team behind the screen and a multi-talented support cast here

There’s always room for higher production features and various bells and whistles if we expect a high-budget Hollywood experience. But this film wasn’t that kind of creation and in a world saturated with gloss over guts and celebrities over authenticity, it’s a refreshing experience. Get on board and enjoy the journey.

Gabbie Chan in home scene looking concerned, she is older woman
Gabrielle Chan as Hanh photo by Phoenix Eye Films
Eliza Nguyen as young girl Anna
Ellza Nguyen as Anna photo by Phoenix Eye Films
Promo for Echo 8 with recent film festival screenings and endorsements including Singapore FF, Focus FF, Austin Action Fest and Market and Tokyo Film Awards

Posted on 29/01/2023, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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