English Title: Furie
Original Title: Hai Phượng
Rating: 6/7 Samurai
Furie is the highest-grossing film in Vietnamese history, and it’s easy to see why; it’s a super fun, action-packed hour and a half that hardly ever slows down once it gets going. With its hyper-stylized action and singularly focused lead character, it would be easy to say that’s it’s a Vietnamese rip off of John Wick and leave it at that but there’s more to it.
The most obvious difference between John Wick and Furie is the obviously that the lead character is a woman. Hai Phuong, played by Van Veronica Ngo, a former gangster working as a debt collector and raising her daughter, Mai, in rural Vietnam takes on the role of unstoppable vengeance machine. Early on we see the two struggle are struggling to make ends meet and Hai Phuong is eager for Mai to have a better life than her own. Soon as they are shopping in a crowded marketplace, Mai is kidnapped and put on a bus heading towards Saigon*. From the point forward the chase is on, and Hai Phuong will stop at nothing to get her daughter back.
To a certain extent the plot is inconsequential once the chase begins, we’re given a series of set pieces that involve Hai Phuong fighting progressively bigger baddies, until an excellent final battle on a moving train. Though the story is predictable it doesn’t mean it’s the movie isn’t enjoyable, it’s the opposite. We’ve all seen enough movies to know that the lead character is going to fight until she accomplishes what she sets out to, in this case, knowing that it’s easy to just sit back and enjoy the excellently choreographed and filmed fight scenes. That’s what we bought the ticket for anyway.
Something else that’s worth the price of admission(or your Netflix charge) is getting to see a film set in Vietnam. As far as I can remember this is the first movie I’ve seen that was made in Vietnam, I’m sure there have been great movies made there before this, but I was glad to see this one so easily available to stream. We’re able to get a glimpse of life in the countryside early on in the movie and then see some of what I’m guessing are the seedier parts of Saigon after the action moves there.
Along with the scenery, a cultural tidbit that I found interesting in Furie was how shunned at looked down upon Hai Phuong was as a debt collector. To be clear, she is no way a legitimate debt collector, she works for a local loan shark and uses violence to get money from people. In western movies, we’re used to seeing criminal debt collectors as tough guys who are to be at the very least feared, and get a cool title, “enforcer.” In the rural area where Hai Phuong lives, she is almost constantly mocked at derided for her profession from the woman she works for to her daughter and her classmates, she is shown no respect. Of course, I don’t know if this how all Vietnamese feel about debt collectors, but it serves well to illustrate how far the Hai Phuong is willing to sink to get away from her big-city gangster past.
On the subject of the lead’s gangster past, that is the one area that could have used a little more development. What makes the John Wick movies so enjoyable isn’t the stories so much as the rich world they take place in. I wasn’t expecting quite that level of world-building here but beyond one short scene with a former associate and few other references in dialogue, we learn almost nothing about Hai Phuong’s criminal past, which is too bad because it seems like it would be interesting to learn how this woman became so proficient at ass-kicking.
At barely an hour and a half Furie is a super fun and easy watch. It’s a testament to the filmmakers that they were able to put out a movie that easily holds up to a lot of the action movies being put out of Hollywood these days.
*I know the it’s called Ho Chi Minh City but in the movie they call in Saigon so that’s what I went with here.
Subs & Dubs: There’s only subtitles available for this one, but there’s so much action happening that even if you don’t like subtitles you have to do that much reading.
Where to watch: Furie is available worldwide on Netflix.