When the chips are down, the words we’re told to live by are “Keep It Simple, Stupid”, and they’re words that you can bet director Le-Van Kiet took to heart in the making of the Vietnamese martial arts action thriller, “Furie”. While the film’s kidnapping plot line is far from groundbreaking, what sets “Furie” apart is its understanding that out of simplicity arises purity – in this case, the fundamental purity of a mother’s instinct to protect her child at all costs. With superb action sequences and an understated yet powerful performance by Veronica Ngo, “Furie” breaks the primal nature of maternal instinct down to its bare essence, and delivers a sharp, white-knuckled ride of emotional stakes and hard-hitting action.
Veronica Ngo assumes the lead in the role of former-gangster-turned-single mother Hai Phuong, while Cat Vy portrays her young daughter, Mai. Meanwhile Hoa Tran steps into the role of the vicious villainess of the film, Thanh Soi, leader of an underground network of organ traffickers, while Pham Anh Khoa portrays Truc, a criminal in the slums of Saigon who gives our heroine a run for her money. Thanh Nhien Phan also appears in the role of Detective Luong, who becomes a crucial ally of Hai Phuong’s as the story progresses.
In a small rural community deep in the jungles of Vietnam, Hai Phuong does her best to raise her young daughter Mai as a single mother. Though she’s done everything possible to leave her old life in a street gang behind her, Hai Phuong can only make ends meet as a debt collector, an occupation that occasionally calls upon her to drift closer to the violence she’s fled from.
After an argument in the local market separates her from Mai, who had erroneously been accused of pick-pocketing, Hai Phuong is horrified to see her child kidnapped by a gang of vicious human traffickers. Her horror only intensifies at the realization that Mai is joining countless other children, with their organs to be harvested and sold on the black market. Unwilling to let her daughter meet such a gruesome fate, Hai Phuong follows Mai’s abductors to Saigon, determined to rescue her child and the rest of the kidnapped children before it’s too late.
“Furie” doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel with its kidnapping plot, but by settling in on something so simple, it has the advantage of having a sturdy tree trunk on which to hang ornaments of its own making. When the film opens, Hai Phuong doesn’t have much grander aspirations than to simply get herself and her daughter through the day, and the means she has to go about that is a career choice she clearly disdains. It’s also killing her inside that her old life gave her greater personal freedom and income, and while she clearly loves Mai, her choice to sacrifice it all to be a caring mother is one that’s left her more than a little resentful.
There’s a karmic quality in the way in which she loses Mai early on. As if it were a direct response to her internal pity party, Mai is kidnapped right when her mother is the most furious at her for a false charge of thievery in the local market, leaving the two of them to part involuntarily, and on the most bitter of terms. Within minutes of arguing with her daughter, Hai Phuong is force fed the darkest “Be Carfeul What You Wish For” scenario possible, and swiftly learns the hard way how much truth is found in the saying “You don’t know what you have until you lose it.”
All of that is crystal clear to the audience without the film having to take us by the hand and explain, and Le-Van Kiet trusts us to be able to read the emotional power of what his protagonist is experiencing. It’s actually a little astonishing just how much of the film Hai Phuong spends chasing Mai’s kidnappers with tears running down her face, but hers is a pain no parent could fail to relate to, and one rarely portrayed with such raw and gripping emotion as it is here.
That also lends a greater potency to the film’s abundant fight sequences. There’s an aura of desperation; around Hai Phuong battling with her daughter’s abductors, the knowledge of where Mai has been taken and what her kidnappers plan to do with her and her fellow abductees fuelling Hai Phuong’s vigor in combat.
Veronica Ngo may have begun her career in martial arts films as a rookie in 2007’s “The Rebel“, but you never would’ve guessed it then, and you certainly wouldn’t in “Furie”. Anyone not already familiar with her performance in the former is guaranteed to leave “Furie” that much more baffled by her underutilization in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (though, to be fair, that’s seemingly a fate shared by any Asian star not named “Donnie Yen“)!
Right off the bat, her pursuit of Mai sees her fending off an attacker while both are speeding on motorcycles, and not ten minutes goes by where her will isn’t put to the test. The second act of the film puts Hai Phuong through even more hell as she descends into the neon-colored underworld of Saigon and battles anyone with a hint of where Mai’s kidnappers are headed like a blend of “John Wick” and “Taken”. Hai Phuong’s blistering brawl with Truc, a drug dealer in Saigon’s underworld really lets Veronica Ngo showcase just how much of a Vovinam pro she’s turned herself into, with the resolution giving her an equally open window as an actress.
Hai Phuong holds her own against more waves of opponents as her pursuit continues, but the finale aboard a speeding train is the film’s most sparkling action achievement. Hai Phuong pummels and is pummelled by the entire gang of organ traffickers both inside of and on top of the train, before finally going toe-to-toe with the nefarious big boss of the organ trafficking ring, Thanh Soi. Considering just how much she stole “The Rebel”, the final showdown of “Furie” is arguably Ngo’s best fight scene to date, and a true testimony to her skill as an action star, and to Le-Van Kiet’s ability to solidify his audiences’ emotional investment in even the most basic of stories.
With a very human, edge-of-your-seat story, a magnificent performance by Veronica Ngo, and a slew of absolutely stellar Vovinam action sequences, “Furie” is an action-drama that you should certainly check out. The kidnapping plot may be as old as time itself, but that proves to be its greatest asset, with Le-Van Kiet’s utter mastery at getting the greatest mileage possible out of such a simple foundation. The warrior woman concept is all the rage in popular culture right now, and with movies like “Furie” around, that’s no reason to put the brakes on it any time soon!
- Le-Van Kiet graduated from the UCLA School of Film and TV. Some of his other credits as director include “Dust of Life”, “House in the Alley”, “Bay Cap 3”, “The Rich Woman”, and “The Lost Tour: Vietnam”.
- Veronica Ngo previously worked with Le-Van Kiet on 2012’s “House in the Alley”.
- The film premiered in Vietnam on February 22nd, 2019.
- “Impressive that you got this far. But you’ve come to the wrong place.” – Thanh Soi (while facing off with Hai Phuong.)
- “I may be at the wrong place, but you took the wrong kid.” – Hai Phuong (in reply.)