Men and women with “a particular set of skills” really need to learn to beef up the security around their family and loved ones! After several such kidnappings that, in afterthought, turn out to be a bad deal for the antagonists, including that of Ma Dong-seok’s wife in “Unstoppable” last year, this time it is Vietnamese superstar Veronica Ngo who has her daughter snatched from her in director Le Van Kiet’s “Furie”. The film made history by becoming the first Vietnamese film to receive a wide release in United States.
Hai Phuong is a mysterious resident of a quiet fishing village in the Vietnamese countryside. A martial arts expert, who has moved to the village not too long ago with her clever school-going daughter Mai. Money is hard to come by as Hai works as a debt collector for a local moneylender to make ends meet, work which Mai is very vocally against. But when Mai gets kidnapped by a continent-wide child abduction ring, Hai gets forcefully pulled back to Saigon and back to a life she thought she had left behind her for good.
Not only does the storyline not seem new for the genre, it is not too unfamiliar territory for director Le Van Kiet either, whose previous film “The Rich Woman” also saw a mother go to the depths to save her daughter. The plot here is paper-thin, leaves gaping unanswered questions but it just about manages to glue the action set-pieces together and keep things interesting. Because it revolves mainly around Hai, it leaves little rooms to develop supporting characters well, or indeed at all, with most of them serving merely as props for Hai to smash up or disregard on her way to her daughter.
It would also have been interesting to delve deeper into Hai’s backstory. The film is concise at 97 minutes and one wonders if only a little bit more time could have been afforded to character development. Another addition that the film could have benefitted from is memorable henchmen for Hai to dispose of, upon which films of such genre thrive. But, in the grand scheme of things, none of these flaws or shottcomings matter for too long when your storyline, and indeed the entire film, is centred around a lead as charming yet ferocious as Veronica Ngo.
Ngo, who also serves as a producer and might be best known to western audiences for her small but important role in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” as well as from Netflix’s “Bright” starring Will Smith, is in scintillating form. Known in Vietnam for her action films going all the way back to her breakout film “The Rebel”, she is as effective in her emotional scenes as her action scenes, with the scene with her brother being a highlight of the former. There really is no other actress working currently in Vietnam who could have pulled off the action scenes in the film quite as well as she does, which comes from years of martial arts training. With not many characters getting sufficient screen time, other actors don’t get a lot to show off their acting with. Even Thanh Nhien Phan as Luong, the detective in charge of the abduction ring case who has a past with Hai, doesn’t get enough scope to emote but impresses in what little action sequences he gets.
Technically, the cinematography by Christopher Morgan Schmidt is standout, showcasing the sun-drenched countryside of Vietnam and the neon-drenched dark underbelly of Saigon with equal beauty, with Nguyen Hoang Anh’s thumping soundtrack accompanying it well. But the star of the show is of course the action direction of Yannick Ben and Anh Tuan Nguyen as well as the fight choreography by Kefi Samuel Abrikh, with the inventive bike repair shop fight, the train carriage fight, the final boss battle with its wicked “fatality” end move and the unbroken shot which sees Hai dispose of a horde of gun-wielding bad guys towards the end staying with you.
“Furie” doesn’t break barriers, nor does it attempt to, but what it does well is tell a familiar story through the female perspective and give the audience a tirade of thrilling, almost non-stop action sequences skilfully planned and executed, while also introducing a much wider audience to the hidden Vietnamese treasure that is action star Veronica Ngo. More of this, please!