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The list of Asian action films is long and exhaustive. This means you must do something special with the form in order to stand out. Le Van Kiet’s Furie, the first Vietnamese film to be released in America, does nothing special but it’s an important step especially as Asian action films look set to dominate the future global box office. Two of the biggest films of the decade came from China. 2017’s Wolf Warrior 2 and this year’s The Wandering Earth have both made nearly a billion dollars each. Considering Furie’s runaway success in Vietnam it won’t be long before the country births its own Wolf Warrior-like franchise.
Hai Phuong (Veronica Ngo – The Last Jedi, Bright) is living a simple life in the Vietnamese countryside with her daughter Mai (Cát Vy). A debt collector, Hai is looked down on by the residents of her small fishing village and Mai is often bullied due to her mother’s career. One day Mai is kidnapped by organ trafficking gangsters leading Hai on a brutal chase to Saigon to rescue her daughter.
The Vietnamese martial art Vovinam is fast, brutal and hard-hitting with a lot more in common with the Pencak Silat of Indonesia than the Kung-Fu of China. With that said there aren’t really enough opportunities for the film to show off how impressive this martial art can be. There are glimmers especially in the final fight between Hai and lead kidnapper Thanh Soi (Tran Thanh Hoa) but Furie is far too procedural and long-winded in its exposition.
All of this story and back story is unnecessary padding on a film that never needed it to begin with. It wastes precious time on Hai’s troubled family life and flashbacks when it should be dedicating it to the furious action it’s title promises. With that said these exposition scenes are well acted by both Ngo and Vy which shows why Ngo is one of the few Vietnamese nationals to make it into big western blockbusters.
In the grand tradition of Asian action films colour is used eagerly and often. It gives the countryside scenes a rustic charm and the neon-drenched Saigon sequences a sinister edge. Even so though the lighting does little to distinguish Furie as anything exceptional. The blue and red of its final fight has been done so often it’s a common sight even in American action movies like John Wick and Atomic Blonde.
Furie shows great promise and potential and it sets the scene for Vietnam’s entrance onto the world stage for action movies. Still, in the context of the action genre originality may as well be gold. Wolf Warrior 2 had its patriotic slant and The Raid had its brutal bone-crushing violence but Furie doesn’t have anything to distinguish it.