FURIE (aka HAI PHƯỢNG) (2019) review

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After roles unworthy of her talents in two major Hollywood blockbusters, David Ayer’s Bright and Rian Johnson The Last Jedi, Veronica Ngo is back to leading woman status in Le Van Kiet’s Furie. She plays Hai Phuong, a former gangster who left Saigon after she became a single mother, and now lives in the countryside where she works as a debt collector, an occupation that marginalises her within the community and makes her daughter Mai (Mai Cat Vi) the target of bullying. One day, Mai is kidnapped by members of a powerful, tentacular organ-trafficking organization. Desperate and unstoppable, Hai Phuong sets off on her trail, which leads her back to Saigon and brings back the ghosts of her former life as a gangster, with only a lone cop (Phan Thanh Nhiên) to help her.

Is there a more well-trodden subgenre of the action film in the 2000s and 2010s than ‘parent searches for child’? Furie calls to mind a hundred other films, from the ‘special skills’ of Taken to the Southeast-Asian swelter and grim organ trafficking angle of Paradox, to the motherly resilience of Kidnap, to name but a few off the top of our head. It is, nevertheless, a vital subgenre, tapping into universal, deep-rooted instincts that can provide urgency to any basic plot, as long as the set-up has a bit of heart. Which is the case with Le Van Kiet’s film: Veronica Ngo and talented child actress Mai Cat Vi present a believable, loving, troubled yet endearing mother-daughter relationship.

This heartfelt set-up ensures that even as things get a bit rote, it’s still easy to get swept up in Hai Phuong’s desperate search. And it is indeed a simplistic, routine plot: peppered with cheesy flashbacks – reminiscent of old Van Damme films – to Hai’s father teaching her about life and courage (with her uncommon martial arts prowess explained by a single shot at his degree in Vovinam teaching), it has the heroin mostly stumble into clues and opponents and stretches rescue time beyond believability: travel to Saigon, protracted discussions with family and old acquaintances, and a hospital stay don’t seem to diminish her chances to find her daughter. And the ‘tentacular’, international organ-trafficking ring can apparently be near-dismantled by beating up a dozen henchmen in a warehouse.

Luckily, Veronica Ngo is a charismatic and fiercely sympathetic actress whose energy and martial arts prowess power the film from beginning to end. And the fights, despite presenting little in the way of novelty, are beautiful displays of hard-hitting grace captured in sustained shots, that do not shy away from all the pain Hai Phuong goes through – these are not one-sided fights. And some poor green-screen work in a fight on top of a train (reminiscent of recent Thai action films) is quickly forgotten when Ngo goes toe-to-toe with Hoa Tran’s brutal, intimidating villainess, a battle that ends with a memorable kill.

Long Story Short: There’s not much new in Furie, but it is made worthwhile by a heartfelt mother-daughter relationship, some excellent fights and Veronica Ngo’s charisma. ***

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2 Comments

  1. As always, thanks for the review AFS. Looking forward to this one!

    Reply

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