Not that any of you reading this have such criminal inclinations, but maybe don’t abduct children. You shouldn’t do this for a variety of moral, ethical, and legal reasons, obviously. But beyond that, in a purely practical sense, movies have taught us that should you travel this path, one of the child’s parents will inevitably be some sort of secret badass who will rain down holy vengeance upon you and your associates from which you will not escape. Such is the case Vietnamese director Kiet Le-Van’s Furie.
Former big-time gangster Hai Phuong (Veronica Ngo) tries to keep her head down in a small village in the country, working as a debt collector for a local hood and teaching her daughter, Mai (Mai Cat Vi), to be better than her mother. When a gang of organ-harvesting kiddie-snatchers abducts her daughter, it drags Hai Phuong kicking and screaming, emphasis on kicking, back to her old life in Saigon as she pummels her way through the underworld she left behind.
More than an all-out actioner, Furie synthesizes family melodrama, revenge, and acrobatic combat into a story about mothers and children on multiple levels. But of course, all of this is mixed in with street fights, bar fights, hatchet fights, ice pick fights, chase scenes, and so, so many broken bottles. Oh, and an epic train battle climax that alone is worth the price of admission. Even if the ultimate plot is predictable, while Hai Phuong’s past plays a role in her current predicament, it’s not always in the most obvious ways—this isn’t exactly a “just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in” scenario.
Probably best known to American audiences for her small role as Paige Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Veronica Ngo has a history of cinematic martial arts—check out Clash (Bay Rong)—and not only carries the action, but also the emotional pathos. Beneath everything else, she’s a desperate mother willing to sacrifice anything to save and protect her child, whether it’s inciting the ire of judgmental villagers or fighting her way through seedy bars and back alleys. It’s great to see her with a showcase like this.
Kiet creates a lovely package, full of sweeping aerial shots that accentuate the rural and urban environments, and the transitions and juxtaposition between the two. Veteran fight choreographer Kefi Abrikh (who has done stunts for everything from Mission: Impossible—Fallout to District B13: Ultimatum) and action director Yannick Ben (Buffalo Boys, Inception) craft solid, elaborate fight scenes. And the entire film is lit like a giallo—neon signs and dimly illuminated interiors paint in lush reds, blues, and purples that call to mind ‘70s Italian horror thrillers more than typical martial arts revenge sagas.
While a one-night ticking clock propels the film and ratchets up the tension, the pace occasionally falters and hiccups. Hai Phuong goes to the cops, who are useless and do nothing, but hunky lead detective Luong (Phan Thanh Nhien) continues to show up despite the fact he adds little beyond another body in fight scenes. And though Furie sets up an underworld of grim, steely criminal boss ladies, typified by the vicious Nu Quai (Thanh Hoa), it never develops—Nu Quai initially comes across as a terrifying foe, but it feels like much of her was sadly left in the cutting room.
Furie doesn’t boast the most original setup or break any new ground, leaning heavily on formula, but it makes the most of what it has. The action is strong, and Veronica Ngo gives her character’s ass-kicking depth and motivation—hopefully this will be the star-making turn she deserves. Kiet Le-Van and company deliver a slick, stylized, exciting martial arts ride. [Grade: B]