Director: Veronica Ong
Cast: Hoa Thanh, Veronica Ngo, Dong Anh Quynh, Toc Tien, Rima Thanh Vy, Thuan Nguyen
Duration: 112 mins.
By Paul Bramhall
The multi-talented star Veronica Ngo has maintained an enduring presence ever since grabbing the attention of international audiences The rebel AND Collide during the late 2000s, both served to briefly put Vietnamese action cinema on the map. Naturally Hollywood came calling, however minor supporting roles such as Star Wars: The Last Jedi AND Light she failed to make full use of her magnetic screen presence. The same could be said for her role in 2016 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destinya Hong Kong production that brought her into contact with producer Bey Logan, and the pair would go on to work together as stars and producers on the 2019 film Anger.
No longer relegated to support shifts, Anger saw Ngo return to Vietnam to star in a contemporary action film and confirmed everyone’s suspicions that he could hold his own as an action lead. Very much a localized version of Taken, plays a single mother whose daughter is kidnapped by traffickers, framed by a gritty story of hunting down those responsible through a combination of punches and kicks. While it’s unlikely anyone was clamoring for a prequel, 4 years later we have one in the form of 2023 Furieswhich once again sees the pair reunite, only this time Ngo he’s the director, contributed to the script, and has a role on camera to round things out.
Thankfully unlike the Taken franchise from which the original was inspired, Furies does not involve the kidnapping of another member of Ngo’s family, and instead takes the unexpected route of telling the story of the origins of of Fury villain, Thanh Soi (played by Hoa Thanh, and is also the Vietnamese title of the film). The decision is interesting both from a narrative point of view, which reveals the character’s life before he became the hardened criminal we see Angerbut also because outside of offering a final combat opponent for Ngo in the original, his character wasn’t particularly memorable or fleshed out.
Luckily this doesn’t prove harmful, and as director Ngo changes things Furies. While the original seemed grounded and grounded in reality, for the prequel the underbelly of 1990s Saigon is portrayed as a pulpy cesspool drenched in squalor, where drugs and alcohol are readily available and the threat of violence and rape is never distant. Indeed, in many ways, the production feels like a throwback to the kind of provocative Category III action films that came out of Hong Kong in the 1990s, think of titles like Naked killer AND Escape from the brothel, albeit minus the gratuitous nudity (for the brief sex scenes included, the props are always strategically placed to avoid anything too revealing). While for some the shift in tone may be jarring, for those willing to embrace the pulpier approach of Furiesthere is a lot to enjoy.
Playing a different role than she was in the original, here Ngo is a mysterious woman who has adopted a trio of street kids, all of whom come from a past of horrific sexual assault, and raised them to be skilled fighters who are dispatched on missions to kill those involved in child trafficking. Furies the main character is played by newcomer Dong Anh Quynh (YOLO the movie), a street pickpocket whom Ngo rescues and places in the arms of a pair of girls he has long been under his tutelage, played by pop star and model Toc Tien (Gia Gan, My Nhan and Gang To) and Rima Thanh Vy (Die: The curse returns). Though initially reluctant, Anh Quynh soon finds a sense of belonging to her adoptive family and teams up with Tien and Thanh Vy to create a trio of deadly women ready to eliminate the scum of the underworld responsible for fueling the illegal sex trade.
Furies it is Ngo’s third time in the director’s chair, after the period pieces The Lost Dragon in 2015 and Tam Cam: The Untold Story in 2016, and shows a sure hand throughout. Opening with a bloody sequel that sees the camera pan across a body-strewn building, interspersed with brief glimpses of what transpired, the narrative engages from the first frame, taking us on the journey that ultimately leads to the events that result in a such a high number of bodies. Complimenting his direction are the stellar performances of all 3 leads, who despite being relatively newcomers, fully embody their characters and have charisma to boot. Anh Quynh, in particular, brings a searing screen presence to his rage-filled character, while Tien brings a tough-faced punk edge to balance Thanh Vy’s kinder, more playful portrayal.
Even back from Anger is fight choreographer Kefi Abrikh, who has choreographed the likes of the likes of Kung Fu Zohra AND Princess (which also featured Ngo), but here he offers his best work. While lukewarm to the action in AngerAbrikh has clearly continued to study his craft, and here he brings a distinctly 1980s Hong Kong feel to the fights. There are various one or two versus many melees that are fast and frenetic, often using blades and anything else a character can get their hands on (including syringes!), and the constantly moving camera complements the choreography perfectly. while also adding a touch of drama as enhancing impacts. Speaking of the latter, Furies it also improves upon its predecessor by understanding the importance of impact shots, with the stunt crew boldly lunging when struck, adding a sense of power to the fight scenes that was missing in Anger.
The action eventually culminates in a cathartic ending in a dilapidated building where Anh Quynh and co. storm head bad boy by Thuan Nguyen (Naked truth) hiding place, facing a small army of attackers with bullets, knives and fists. It’s another sequence that demonstrates that Ngo and Abrikh know how to use action to tell a story, with the sequence being the culmination of an increasingly intense number of action beats that punctuate the running time and allow Furies to go out on a satisfyingly bloody and punchy high note.
If any criticism can be leveled at the action, then it would be directed at the motorbike chase, which was blatantly executed as stationery in front of a green screen. That said, given the overall pulpy aesthetic, I actually found its hokey execution a bit charming in an overtly ambitious way. He throws in CGI flying kicks, and he certainly can’t be blamed for not going all in, an approach that can be said to have been applied to all the action scenes. For those hoping Ngo gets in on the action, he has a moment to run riot, and it’s in an unexpected way that proves once again that an action movie will always be better if equal attention is paid to the story and the characters. it is the action itself. I personally preferred his supporting role here more than I did his character Anger.
It is undeniable that the spirit of 1980s Hong Kong cinema looms large Furies, with the protagonists often feeling as if they could have been transplanted from one of the countless Girls with Guns films of the time, and the sexual deviance of the villains is a mainstay of many Hong Kong villains. Even some of the songs, notably by veteran Vietnamese crooners Dan Truong (who is also controlled in the film itself) and Phuong Tranh, contain distinctive echoes of the 1980s Canto-pop era dominated by the likes of Leslie Cheung and Sally Yeh . I’d say the result is the best female action film since Korea The wickedness, just minus the melodrama. It could be an origin story, but Furies it ultimately stands on its own as a modern slice of unassuming action and heralds the arrival of a new talent in the form of Dong Anh Quynh. It’s worth a look.
Paul Bramhall’s assessment: 7.5/10