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 (2019).
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 (2019) is the Vietnamese answer to Hollywood, but while the visual quality’s there, Kiet has still a long way ahead to reach even a decent Hollywood level. This is Vollywood baby.
What is Furie (2019) about?
The protagonist – Hai Phuong (played by Van Veronica Ngo) – is a badass debt collector, introduced to the audience when doing her “everyday chores“. This current position isn’t quite respected in a village though, and thus Hai Phuong lives a rather reclusive life. The only true companion in this alienated existence is a daughter that Hai Phuong raises on her own. Hence, when the girl’s kidnapped by a human trafficking gang from Saigon, the debt collector leaves it all and goes after the crooks.
Hai Phuong is the female version of Liam Neeson in Taken (2008)
One cannot watch Furie (2019) without seeing Liam Neeson’s reflection in Van Veronica Ngo, the actress who plays Hai Phuong. The two share an equal level of toughness, 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 narrative canvas. She’s a dynamite, leaving behind a trail of broken arms and beaten-up faces as if it’s her daily bread.
The choice of this actress isn’t accidental because Van Veronica Ngo is Vietnam’s ultimate celebrity. Internationally known from The Last Jedi (2017), where she played Rose, Ngo has the right stardom in Vietnam to make the comparison to Taken (2008) even more reasonable. Even the dumbest plotholes are covered by her bravado and bonafide charisma, which goes beyond the simple character’s given to her. For the Vietnamese audience, she’s The Rock, Liam Neeson and Charlize Theron’s Furiosa all in one body.
Furie (2019) covers plot holes with action bits
Taken (2008), or at least its first installment, had been a grounded and riveting story. And that’s where Le Van Kiet’s film falters.
Neeson’s role made an impact, but so did the story’s palpable tension. Le-Van Kiet lacks such storytelling craft of Luc Besson (who co-write the script of Taken (2008)), even though he’s been educated as a filmmaker in the U.S. He’s one of many, but similarly to a fellow Laotian director Mattie Do and her ghost story The Long Walk (2019), Kiet’s direction is 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, there are moments of unintentional failures. 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 (2019) could pass the censorship demands). Furthermore, Van Kiet’s dramatic build-up’s corny and artificial.
Furie (2019) offers the visual feast of Saigon
Another close kin to Furie (2019) is Nicolas Winding Refn and his weirdly climatic, but also mildly off-putting Only God Forgives (2013).
Refn mastered the recipe for dipping sauce of neon lights and dark interiors, and his way of viewing Thailand’s Bangkok heavily influenced Saigon in Furie (2019). Saigon is enigmatic, designed by a nightmarish dance of fleeting lights 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. I might not be a sucker for action sequences, but Furie (2019) offered several breathtaking choreographies.
While Hai Phuong’s pursuit is both unbelievable and silly as a story, its hypnotizing power derives from the martial arts and passion that fuel every action sequence of Furie (2019). That for-fun approach is essential to enjoy Le-Van Kiet’s efforts. I switched off any parts of my brain responsible for logic, and went with the flow – fast, fist-and-kick, feverish ride with a badass protagonist at its core.
Furie (2019) – Culturally Hated or Loved?
The movie has little to feed your brain with, but the martial arts performances and Van Veronica Ngo’s towering role make this effort somehow worthwhile.
Hate Grade: 4.5/10
Director: Le-Van Kiet
Writers: Kay Nguyen
Starring: Van Veronica Ngo
Music: Kim Hans Morton
Cinematography: Morgan Schmidt
If you liked Furie (2019), you might also want to check out those similar movies:
- Only God Forgives (2013) – Nicolas Winding Refn’s violent tale with outstanding cinematography and equally badass characters
- Wild Goose Lake (2019) – a slow-burn, Chinese thriller that travels to similar aesthetics, but provides a much more prolific plot to chew into
- Fallen Angels (1998) – another Chinese thriller, which follows an unfortunate hitman and his hit-and-run escape
- Lost River (2014) – an often-booed directorial of Ryan Gosling, which despite a murky narrative, it nailed the gorgeous, neon-infused visuals
- Taken franchise – the prototype for Furie (2019), these movie are speeding trains with great action sequences