Martial arts look cool as hell, but Furie (2019) remains a silly chapter in the book of “Hollywood Misunderstood”.
“Do you watch American movies?” asks a chubby nurse, just seconds before she’s taken hostage by the protagonist of “Furie”. This one sentence becomes a sacred tagline for the Vietnamese director Le-Van Kiet. Indeed, the filmmaker evidently dreams of reaching for the stars. In several interviews he claimed that “Furie” is the Vietnamese answer to Hollywood, but while the visual quality’s somewhat there, Kiet has still a long way ahead to reach even a decent Hollywood level. This is Vollywood baby.
“Furie” feels like a fun mix of “Only God Forgives” and “Taken”
The protagonist – Hai Phuong (played by Van Veronica Ngo) – is a badass debt collector, introduced to the audience when doing her “everyday chores”. However, her current position isn’t quite respected in a village she lives in, and thus Hai Phuong lives a rather reclusive life. Her only true companion is a daughter she raises on her own. When the girl’s kidnapped by a human trafficking gang from Saigon, Hai Phuong begins her feverish pursuit.
Hai Phuong – a female Liam Neeson
One cannot watch “Furie” without seeing Liam Neeson’s reflection in Van Veronica Ngo, the actress who plays Hai Phuong. The two share an equal level of badassness, but at the same time, remain credible as loving parents or partners. In fact, Ngo’s performance erases a lot of stains on Le-Van Kiet’s canvas. She’s a dynamite to watch, leaving behind a trail of broken arms and beaten-up faces as if it’s her daily bread.
Her being the star of the movie is quite understandable once you realise Van Veronica Ngo is Vietnam’s ultimate celebrity. Internationally known from “The Last Jedi”, where she played Rose, Ngo has the right stardom in Vietnam to make the comparison to “Taken” even more reasonable. Even the dumbest plotholes are slightly covered by her bravado and bonafide charisma, which goes beyond the simple character’s given to her.
But make no mistake – “Taken”, or at least its first installment, had been a grounded and riveting story. Neeson made an impact, but so did the story and its palpable pulse. Le-Van Kiet lacks that storytelling craft of Luc Besson (who co-write the script of “Taken), even though he’s been educated as a filmmaker in the U.S. Somehow similarly to Mattie Do and her “The Long Walk”, Kiet’s impatient and not meticulous enough to combine a good story with action and visuals. He runs fast, but forgets to hydrate along the way.
As a consequence, eyebrows are raised more than once, and I couldn’t help but chuckle at the role of a detective who always arrives on time, like a knight on a white horse (though the image of police is changed so that “Furie” could pass the censorship demands). Furthermore, this whole dramatic build-up’s corny as hell, leaving Hai Phuong vulnerable to the growing pains of the script.
A visual taste of Saigon
I also mentioned Nicolas Winding Refn and his weirdly climatic, but also mildly off-putting to some viewers – “Only God Forgives”. Refn mastered the dipping sauce of neon lights and dark interiors, and his way of viewing Thailand’s Bangkok heavily influenced Saigon in “Furie”. Saigon’s enigmatic, designed by a nightmarish dance of neons and shady corners. It’s ferocious, dangerous and appetizing.
Le Van Kiet’s also clearly fascinated with drones and Hollywood’s “Fast and Furious” type – there’s dozens of swift camera zooms, dynamic fight sequences, all delivered by cinematographer Morgan Schmidt (who also shot Van Veronica Ngo’s directorial debut “The Lost Dragon” back in 2015). They can be cherished, and treated as another cover-up for the sinful script.
While the Hai Phuong’s pursuit is both unrealistic and silly as a story, its hypnotising power derives from the martial arts that fuel every second sequence of “Furie”. That purely-for-fun approach is therefore essential when watching Le-Van Kiet’s efforts. I switched off any analytical and logical parts of my brain, and went with the flow – fast, fist-and-kick, feverish ride with a serious badass at its core.
Overall evaluation: “Furie” has little to feed your brain with, but the martial arts performances and Van Veronica Ngo’s towering role make this effort somehow worthwhile.
Dir. Le-Van Kiet
Hate Grade: 4.5/10
Where to watch “Furie”? It’s Vietnam’s Oscar candidate for 2020, so maybe some bigger streaming platform will pick it up. It had a limited distribution in the United States in March though.