Furie (Vietnam, 2019) [NYAFF 2019]

Some films seem to exist for the sole purpose of showcasing a performer’s talent, and this is certainly true in the case of Lê Văn Kiệt’s Furie. Although it’s a somewhat layered film that tries tackling more than a few emotional and topical issues, there is no denying that this is essentially a vehicle for the great Veronica Ngo. Global audiences might remember Ngo for her brief, yet impactful appearance at the beginning of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) but will likely get their proper introduction to this Vietnamese superstar with Furie. Headlining a revenge thriller that is sure to be seen as a female version of Taken (2008), Ngo delivers a heartfelt performance in a film that is far from perfect, but still manages to pack in a couple of furious punches.

Furie revolves around Hai Phuong (Ngo), a single mother residing in a rural area who works as a debt collector to support her daughter Mai (Cát Vy). It’s clear from the very beginning that Hai Phuong has a mysterious past, which is quickly revealed to be one that was intertwined in a world of crime and violence. Despite leaving this life behind for the sake of her daughter, she finds herself haunted by her past when Mai is kidnapped as part of an underground organ trafficking ring. Making full use of her instincts as a mother, Hai Phuong delves back into her dark roots to find Mai at all costs. This brings the film to the busy urban streets of Ho Chi Minh City, where Hai Phuong fights her way through a number of mercenaries in order to save Mai and stop an ongoing cycle of cruelty and evil.

As an action film, Furie is equipped with a number of strong fight scenes and set pieces. Ngo proves herself to be a capable actress with a demanding onscreen physical prowess deserving of praise. She essentially punches her way through the entire film, while sustaining some pretty hard hits herself. The action choreography is quite basic for the most part, but really ramps up towards the end as the stakes continue to grow. And what’s particularly striking about the choreography is how it doesn’t paint Hai Phuong as an untouchable warrior on a vengeful journey. Instead, we see a strong, yet fallible fighter battle through one challenge after the other. This sense of realism and vulnerability distinguishes Furie from the godlike protagonists in films like Taken and John Wick (2014). While Ngo still powers through her fight scenes like a champ, each victory is hard earned in bloody desperation. There’s no such thing as an easy battle in Furie.

As part of the physical struggle that Ngo evokes with her strong performance in, there’s also a packaged deal with the emotional struggle that her character endures. Every piercing glance and desperate plea serves as an anchor that carries the film to some pretty dark places. And while other films have tackled the topic of human trafficking in the context of a revenge/rescue story – most recently, Paradox (2017) comes to mind) – Furie really hits the right emotional notes to characterize a thoughtfully complex mother-daughter relationship. In fact, the first 20 minutes of Furie, before most of the action even begins, produces some of the film’s strongest material.

Despite being a truly thrilling ride, what’s perhaps lacking here is a strong supporting cast to further bolster its primary star. Furie is unabashedly a starring vehicle for the Ngo, but the lack of virtually any other memorable performances dampens the overall product. With the exception of a scene stealing comedic turn by an actress playing a helpful nurse (who is unfortunately not even searchable on the film’s IMDb or Wikipedia pages), the rest of the supporting cast turn out relatively flat and unmemorable performances.

As a result, Ngo really does hold Furie on her shoulders, and does so in perfect fashion. It isn’t the best action revenge film, but Furie does offer an interesting take on a genre that continues to interest audiences. If nothing else, it finally provides international audiences with a proper introduction to Veronica Ngo. And that, on its own, is more than enough.

Furie is showing at the New York Asian Film Festival 2019 on July 11.