A mother goes on a rampage of revenge when her daughter is … well, taken in Lê Văn Kiệt’s martial arts beat-em-up.
“Never mess with a tigress protecting her cubs.”
During the 1980s and early 1990s, Hollywood had something of a love for showing beefy, nigh-incomprehensible dudes pick up the biggest gun they could and go on a murderous revenge rampage. The Rambo films were big on this, as were so many Schwarzenegger movies, from Conan to Commando. It naturally died out, and then made a surprise reappearance – albeit with a focus on martial arts over gunfights – in the East with films like Ong-Bak and then in the West with Taken. Both had countless imitators. Later, John Wick would take the mantle as the most-copied revenge action extravaganza, but it’s from the two former films that Vietnam takes inspiration for its own beat-em-up Furie.
Hai Phuong (Veronica Ngo) is a former gangster from Saigon who’s moved out of the city in order to raise her daughter Mai (Cat Vy) in the countryside. Working as a debt collector, she is mistreated and disliked by the people around her, and Mai is frequently bullied. After an argument with her mother one day, Mai is kidnapped by child traffickers, and Hai begins a bloody quest of vengeance, leaving a trail of bodies on her way to rescue her daughter.
It’s a bit pointless, and a touch unnecessary, to list all of the similarities this film has with others of its kind. The synopsis alone is bound to give you visions of Chocolate, and … yeah, in the originality department Furie is lacking somewhat. But so what? It’s a martial arts revenge film; there aren’t exactly a million ways to do it. What’s key isn’t the broad strokes of the story, but the details, the setting and – mostly importantly – the action. And in many ways, Furie manages to stand out as its own story, by giving us a badass who is neither ex-special forces nor an assassin but a protective mother who is just doing what she must for her child. Sure, Hai has a background as a gangster but it’s really just there to explain how she can throw down as well as she does.
Hai is really the biggest selling point of the film. Veronica Ngo Thanh Van sells her character’s two sides perfectly, and director Le Van Kiet gives her enough moments where she’s defeated, doubtful or distressed enough that she feels much more human than 90% of the emotionless killing machines the genre is so well-known for. Her initial breakdown, after finding out about her daughter’s kidnapping, endears her to the audience and secures her resolve for the rest of the film. If all a character has to do is flip a switch to “total badass” the second anything happens, it might look cool, but also tends to make a hero dull and a touch robotic.
Something else that differentiates Furie from other films of its kind is its location and colour schemes. The gorgeous Vietnamese scenery plays a big role in the early scenes, and those shots are drenched in sunlight, giving those parts warmth not often seen in the often desaturated and dreary world of Takenlikemovies. The night scenes are illuminated with tonnes of contrasting, neon lights which gives it a nice neo-noir feel (which is a touch expected at this point, but it never fails to look cool). And then there’s the train at the end, where for some reason the entire scene is drenched in utter darkness, rendering half the fight incomprehensible. But that’s a minor gripe.
Of course, the action is great. The style of martial arts used is the relatively recent Vovinam, for those keeping score at home. I’m not an expert in the major differences between certain styles, but I can say for a fact that the fights in Furie look great, when they aren’t being cut up every which way. As much as I loved the often nail-biting and wonderfully staged fight choreography, the editing was quite choppy in a lot of places, and that does take the edge off what is otherwise some great on-screen violence.
It’s that choreography, combined with its lead character that gives the film most of its personality. The story is a bit basic, and some of the side characters from the cool but barely-there cop (Phan Thanh Nhein) to the random dude from her past who promised vengeance have little impact on the proceedings. It isn’t the best pure action film – many of the one-liners and backtalk are more groan inducing than they are cool or funny (“I might be in the wrong place,” Hai explains threateningly, “but you took the wrong kid!”), but in a way those only serve to make Hai seem more human and flawed along the way. Those minor moments are overshadowed by the stuff it wanted to focus on, and from its surprisingly poignant exploration of motherhood to its bone-crunching brawls, Furie makes for a fine representation of the slick action cinema Vietnam can produce.
Verdict: Great action pairs nicely with a very likeable lead, and sometimes that’s all you really need to have a good time.
Overall entertainment: 7/10
Real, human characters: Maybe two?
Faceless NPCS: A thousand
Final boss: Didn’t get a chance to talk about her, but she was pretty great
Weapon of choice: That durian took a guy out quicker than anything else
Also known as: Hai Phượng
Director: Lê Văn Kiệt
Veronica Ngo – Hai Phượng
Cát Vy – Mai
Phan Thanh Nhiên – Detective Lương
Phạm Anh Khoa – Truc
Trần Thanh Hoa – Thanh Sói