Director: Le Van Kiet
Do you sometimes feel like you’re a bad mother? Are you struggling to put food on the table? Not happy with your current job? Still haunted by the things you did in the past?
Want to kick the sh!t out of something … or somebody?
You need to watch Furie, the story of Hai Phuong.
The diminutive Hai Phuong (Veronica Ngo) is a former gangster from Saigon, abandoned by her family for having an illegitimate child.
She now lives a reclusive life with her 10 year old daughter Mai (Cat Vi) in a southern, rural Vietnamese village where she works as debt collector for a local loan shark and is generally scorned by the villagers – and even attacked by some in retribution.
When Mai is kidnapped from the markets in broad daylight, Hai’s world is suddenly thrown into turmoil.
After failing to recover her daughter in an intense motorbike-vs-riverboat chase, Hai Phuong then tracks Mai to Saigon (Ho Chi Min City) where she discovers the kidnappers are part of a larger, organised syndicate who kidnap children for their body parts.
Mai Phuong uses some of her old connections to eventually find her way to the kidnappers’ den, leaving a trail of broken and bloodied bodies in her wake.
The den has all the signs of a macabre and brutal organ-mining operation – a slice of liver, some strands of intestine … wait, was that an off-cut from an optic nerve?
It is here, however, that Hai is stopped in her tacks by the She Terminator and crime boss Thanh Soi, while Mai (still alive and intact) is shipped away by train for live export.
When Hai comes to, she is in hospital and must find a way to escape the building and track down the destination of her child and for one final confrontation with the crime syndicate and Thanh Soi.
It is very clear that women are in charge in this film, from the women running stalls at the markets, to the nurse who helps her escape a Saigon hospital, to the boss of the child kidnapping ring, Thanh Soi (Thanh Hoa) who is like a female version of The Terminator.
Even when Hai Phuong tracks down an ex-con who may know where Mai is, it’s his mother’s pleas that prevent Hai Phuong from murdering him (empathizing with the woman’s drive to protect her child).
Men are mere braces– dim-witted guards, slow-moving cops (one, a Vietnamese version of Don Johnson who, unlike Hai, baulks at the prospect of taking on the whole crime gang).
They are all punching bags, warm ups to the main fight scene.
Even Hai’s brother, still outraged by the errors of her youthful ways, turns away from Hai in her time of desperation.
Furie’s director, Le Van Kiet, has met with some criticism for Furie, mainly over sticking rigidly to a well-worn ‘desperate-parent-stops-at-nothing-to find-kidnapped-child’ plotline (compared by many to “Taken”), a reliance on flashbacks as a story-telling device and, let’s face it, some pretty base scripting.
But the execution in Furie is superb and the film is lifted to even greater heights by the amazing, simmering martial arts supremo, Veronica Ngo as Hai Phuong – at once diminutive and vulnerable (in her meek purple kurta) and powerful and, well, unstoppable.
She may even been quite beautiful, but her face is never clear of cuts and blood long enough to tell (although she must have the world’s strongest nose to have been punched in the face so many times without it breaking!)
Ngo has previously played the badass elf in Netflix’s Bright and had a support role in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which is just as well because, armed with a light sabre, there’s no telling how much destruction this fast and furious lady might have brought to the galaxy.
She is better known for her starring roles in smaller screen films, including Once Upon a Time in Vietnam (2013).
One distinguishing feature of Furie is that it sets itself in a harder state of realism, avoiding the temptation of the magical theatre of a Crouching Tiger, House of Flying Daggers, or Hero, where adversaries can float through the air or run up the sides of buildings.
While the martial arts in Furie are exquisite, Le Van Kiet allows the emotional response to a very real and serious crime and a woman’s search for redemption to take centre stage.
The film is also shot in some luscious primary colours, from the southern Vietnam countryside to the neon-flooded backstreets of Saigon.
Given a limited budget Le Van Kiet has managed to combine this rich photography by Christopher Morgan Schmidt and excellent close-quarters fight choreography by Samuel Kefi Abrikh with excellent performances by Veronica Ngo and Thanh Hoi to create a very memorable film.
Le Van Kiet debuted with stylized horror film Ngôi Trong Hėm (The House in the Alley) and went on to make the project ‘Gentle’ based on Dostoevsky’s literary work that opened at the Busan Internation Film Festival, 2014.
Furie is his third project and, in my view, his best.