In the movies, human traffickers are woefully inept at cost-benefit analyses. In Taken, someone should have decided to quietly return Liam Neeson’s daughter on the condition of no questions asked. That is even more true of Hai Phuong. The former gangster has a pretty lethal skill set of her own, but it is her mama bear protectiveness that makes her so formidable in Le Van Kiet’s Furie, which plays at the New York Asian Film Festival July 11.
Hai was once a gangster, which is why she is still estranged from her family. All she really needs is her daughter Mai, who is unwisely snatcher away from her one day in the country market. They had been fighting before her abduction, so Hai is especially distraught. She will doggedly follow their trail all the way to Saigon, where she used to haunt the streets during her earlier criminal years.
Yep, that is about the size of Furie. This is not exactly what you would call a complex narrative structure, but it finds virtue in its simplicity. This is the sort of old school beat-down that defined Hong Kong action movies in the 1970s and 1980s. Kiet sets up the pins and Ngo knocks them down. Why complicate something so brutally effective?
Ngo’s action chops are already well-established, but she performs some of her grittiest, most cinematic fight scenes yet as Hai. She really takes it to the level of Villainess, but the mother-daughter relationship is also quite touching, thanks to the rapport she shares with young Mai Cat Vi, playing her namesake. Viewers will really, really root for Hai to rescue Mai and to dish out the payback the traffickers so richly deserve.
Phan Thanh Nhien is appropriately steely as Luong, the honest copper, but he is a distant second fiddle compared to the ferocious Ngo (and Hai). However, Hoa Tran’s scenery chewing presence and ferocious physicality makes trafficking gang leader Thanh Soi a more than worthy nemesis. Frankly, her character exits too soon—and with too much finality.
Kiet and Ngo deliver some juicy red meat for action fans. This is a lithe, street smart movie that only has one speed: full throttle. So, it’s a simple, straight forward review for an unfussy, gleefully violent film. Highly recommended for patrons of marital arts films and Vietnamese cinema, Furie Plays July 11 at the New York Asian Film Festival with Veronica Ngo in attendance. For tickets and more information go here.