Review: ‘A Hundred Billion Key,’ starring Kiều Minh Tuấn, Thu Trang, Anh Tú and Jun Vũ

November 4, 2022

by Carla Hay

Thu Trang and Kiều Minh Tuấn in “A Hundred Billion Key” (Photo courtesy of 3388 Films)

“A Hundred Billion Key”

Directed by Võ Thanh Hòa

Vietnamese with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in Vietnam, the action film “A Hundred Billion Key” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class, wealthy and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: An aspiring actor steals the identity of a wealthy man with amnesia, but then finds out that the man whose identity he stole has a secret life as an assassin.

Culture Audience: “A Hundred Billion Key” will appeal primarily to fans who don’t mind action movies with plots that get ridiculous and have ill-placed comedy.

Anh Tú and Jun Vũ in “A Hundred Billion Key” (Photo courtesy of 3388 Films)

“A Hundred Billion Key” is an action flick that starts out promising but then turns into a heaping, nonsensical mess that mostly fumbles its attempts at comedy. This hyperactive movie about assassins and fake identities crams in too many surprises that become increasingly far-fetched. The film’s very absurd last 20 minutes look like the filmmakers couldn’t think of any believable ideas on how to end the movie.

Directed by Võ Thanh Hòa, “A Hundred Billion Key” is a Vietnamese remake of the 2012 Japanese film “Key of Life,” which was directed by Kenji Uchida. “Key of Life” was also remade into the 2016 South Korean film “Leokki (Luck-Key),” directed by Lee Gae-byok. “A Hundred Billion Key” is the least appealing of the three movies because of how it bungles this intriguing story that is supposed to have some intentional comedy.

The opening scene of “A Hundred Billion Key” (which takes place in an unnamed city in Vietnam) shows an assassin in his 30s named Phan Thach (played Kiều Minh Tuấn) disguised as a hotel waiter delivering room service to a man who’s a hotel guest. The cinematography in this scene is quite artistic, as the camera remains focused on the table being wheeled into the room without showing the assassin right away. As soon as Thach is in the room, he kills his target.

The murder victim put up a fight, which caused a big commotion. Hotel security is alerted to the disturbance in the room, the body is found, and the hunt is on in the hotel for the murderer. However, Thach escapes by shedding his waiter outfit and pretending to be a sanitation worker at the hotel and then slipping away into the night.

The movie than shows a 24-year-old man whose life will soon intertwine with Thach’s life. Cao Chí Dũng (played by Anh Tú) is an aspiring actor who hasn’t had much luck finding work. Dũng’s father immensely disapproves of Dũng’s chosen profession and pesters Dũng to get a “real job.” Dũng lives in an apartment and is five months behind on his rent.

When his landlady shows up with three men to demand the payment, Dũng is about to hang himself with a noose. This attempted suicide scene is played for laughs, in one of the movie’s many comedic scenes that are poorly done or in very bad taste. When the landlady and her three cohorts break down the door, Dũng changes his mind about killing himself and escapes out of a back window.

“One Billion Key” then abruptly cuts to a scene showing assassin Thach in the shower at a public bath house. He accidentally slips on some soap, falls down, and hits his head so hard, he becomes unconscious. Dũng happens to be nearby in the shower, and he sees that this stranger has accidentally dropped a key, but no one else notices. Dũng takes the key, while other people nearby rush to help this unconscious stranger.

A rideshare service is called to take Thach to the nearest hospital. The rideshare driver who shows up is a woman in her 30s named Mai Mai (played by Thu Trang), who is understandably stressed-out over this situation, since she’s the only person accompanying this stranger to the hospital. Viewers have to suspend disbelief that an ambulance wasn’t called in this emergency medical situation.

Mai doesn’t want to stay at the hospital, but she’s forced to do so because she’s the only person at the hospital who can tell the medical professionals what she saw when Thach was put in her car. Thach left all of his identification and his clothing at the bath house. And his wallet, clothing and ID have been stolen by Dũng, who has quickly figured out that Thach is wealthy, based on Thach’s designer clothes, credit cards and home address. Dũng leaves his own clothing and ID behind, in the hope that people will think Thach is Dũng, even though the two men aren’t close in age and don’t look alike.

Dũng uses the key to gain entry to Thach’s house and sees that Thach lives alone. Dũng figures that he can get away with this identity theft as long as Thach is in the hospital. And so, Dũng goes on a spending spree that includes a lot of partying and buying of luxury items. He also uses some of Thach’s money to pay the rent that he owes his landlady. Dũng’s identity theft lasts longer than expected when he finds out that Thach has amnesia, and people have told him that Thach’s name is Cao Chí Dũng.

This flimsy concept is the shaky basis for “A Hundred Billion Key,” which wants viewers to believe that this identity switch is plausible. A huge plot hole that’s never addressed is how two men who don’t look alike, who are years apart in age, and who had photo IDs before this identity switch could be mistaken for each other. The movie’s not-very-believable explanation is that Thach is a loner assassin who is a master of disguises, so his clients don’t ever really know what he looks like. It’s even less believable that Dũng can hide his true identity, in order to steal Thach’s identity.

As soon as Dũng finds out that Thach has taken on Dũng’s identity and is about to be discharged from the hospital, Dũng rushes to his apartment building and tells the landlady that someone else will be living in his apartment unit for a while. Dũng tells the landlady not to bother this new tenant. Back at Thach’s home, Dũng finds a secret room filled with surveillance equipment, walkie talkies and disguises. Dũng incorrectly assumes that Thach is an undercover police officer.

Dũng also finds out from the surveillance cameras that Thach has been spying on a pretty young woman named Hồ Phuong (played by Jun Vũ), who lives nearby. The more that Dũng observes Phuong, the more he’s attracted to her. Eventually, Dũng comes up with a plan to meet Phuong, and he charms her into going on a date with him. You know where this is going, of course, because Dũng can’t keep up his charade forever.

Meanwhile, Mai takes it upon herself to help Thach, who thinks he’s Dũng, in order to get his life back on track. They find out that Dũng is an aspiring actor who has been called to audition for a small role in an action TV show. Guess who’s going to the audition instead of the real Dũng?

This part of the movie is just one of a minefield of plot holes in “A Hundred Billion Key.” This movie takes place at a time when Internet searches can easily be done, so it makes no sense that Mai and people at the hospital don’t try to find out what Dũng looks like before putting his identity on this amnesiac stranger who looks nothing like Dũng. There’s also no explanation for how Dũng’s identity as an actor could be replaced by someone who doesn’t look like him.

Mai has another job besides being a rideshare driver. She works at a fast-food restaurant owned by her meddling mother (played by Kim Xuan), who is upset that Mai is in her 30s and still not married. Mai has a younger sister (played by Puka), who also looks down on Mai for being a spinster of a certain age. Expect to see a lot of stereotypical family bickering between these three women.

Mai helps Thach/the fake Dũng get a job at the restaurant. A running gag in the movie is that this cold-blooded and confident killer is now an insecure fast-food server who is an aspiring actor. It should come as no surprise that Mai, who helps Thach/the fake Dũng build his confidence as an actor, starts to become attracted to him. And the feeling is mutual.

The real Dũng’s only family is his widowed father, who is currently estranged from him, so Dũng’s father doesn’t know about the switched identities. But what about any of Dũng’s friends, neighbors or previous work colleagues who could easily identify him? They are all non-existent. Meanwhile, (dumb plot development alert) Thach, as the fake Dũng, becomes a TV star.

Things get complicated for the real Dũng when he finds out that the man whose identity he stole is really a high-paid assassin. And guess who’s supposed to be his next target? Hint: It’s the only person in the movie who didn’t know Dũng’s real identity before meeting him. It’s all so obvious and lacking in any real suspense, although “A Hundred Billion Key” throws in ludicrous plot developments on top of ludicrous plot developments in a feeble attempt to distract viewers from all the movie’s plot holes.

The rest of the movie involves people on the run from crime bosses, a computer flash drive that contains information that will access a fortune, and a series of cliché-ridden fight scenes. The cast members’ adequate performances aren’t the movie’s biggest problems. “A Hundred Billion Key” fails at being creative because of the insipid storytelling, erratic tone (its attempts at being a wacky comedy look very awkward) and all-around bad dialogue. Action movies aren’t supposed to be intellectual, and many action movies aren’t realistic, but there’s just too much stupidity in “A Hundred Billion Key” that drains the movie of even having the entertainment value of being a guilty pleasure.

3388 Films released “A Hundred Billion Key” in select U.S. cinemas on October 28, 2022. The movie was released in Vietnam on February 1, 2022.

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