Pitched as Vietnam’s ”Taken,” “Furie” directed by Le-Van Kiet unleashes an empowering action hero against Saigon’s criminal underworld. Released in May 2019, the film is the highest-grossing Vietnamese film in history. The story follows Hai Phuong, a debt collector in a small village off the Mekong River. In an effort to make a better life for her daughter, her martial arts skills grant her fast cash and many enemies. Phuong’s world is suddenly rocked when her daughter is kidnapped by a sinister gang. Instinctively, Phuong plunges into strangely-lit alleyways and criminal enterprises to rescue her daughter, wielding lighting-fast fists, high kicks, and whatever tools she can get her hands on. Yet surprisingly, the thrilling action beats are few and far between. ”Furie” instead chooses to spend its time showing off the acting talents of its lead actress.
Veronica Ngo as Phuong is easily the best part of ”Furie.” Western audiences will most likely recognize Ngo as Paige Tico, Rose Tico’s sacrificial sister, in 2017’s “Star Wars: The Last Jedi .” Much of the enjoyment of the film stems from Ngo, a tiny woman, striking down hulking criminals who are often twice her size. Stunt choreographer Kefi Abrikh crafts intense albeit hurried fight scenes stylishly captured by action director Yannick Ben. The camera follows Phuong’s flurry of kicks and punches before briefly holding on Phuong’s expressive face; exhausted, crazed, and enraged.
“You must be able to take the pain… and never give up.”
The film embraces the everyday chaos of Vietnamese life, sharpening the action sequences. Narrow alleys and train cars add a claustrophobic element during a savage beat-down. The ever-present traffic hazards whip past Hai Phuong as she chases down the kidnappers. Saigon’s colorful, neon lights illuminate a child trafficking den, painting every blow in an eerie spotlight of pinks, greens and blues.
The action and Ngo’s performance aside, the film is lacking in story, consisting of a number dated action tropes, some of which feel awkwardly jammed into the plot. The film includes an adrenaline-fueled, determined “tiger mom,” a by-the-book policeman and an unremarkable reincorporated final villain. Some plot points are resolved off screen, without a word of explanation. In a sense, the weaker story seems to be a set up for Ngo’s acting ability. Despite working with recycled genre tropes, Ngo still manages to deliver a fierce performance. Her character’s desire to protect her daughter while also remaining adamant on doing it on her own terms is successfully portrayed.
As Vietnam’s film industry begins to blossom, it is encouraging to watch a film featuring an unshackled female character. While gender equality is still a lofty goal for Vietnam, “Furie” is a step in the right direction. As if speaking directly to the female audience members, Phuong delivers some crucial advice in her final line: “You must be able to take the pain… and never give up.”
Furie is currently available on Netflix.