Contemporary Vietnamese entertainment superstar Veronica Ngo Thanh Van goes back into action with Furie, carving out a memorable role for herself as an indomitable martial arts heroine. After playing sidekick to Johnny Tri Nguyen in The Rebel (screened at FEFF 2008) and Clash (FEFF 2010), Ngo takes top billing in a film that creates an iconic “tiger lady,” a mother who is willing to go to any lengths to defend her children. A deliberately feminine film that overturns the clichés, placing the men on the margins of a story that highlights female doggedness and tenacity.
Veronica Ngo is Hai Phuong, a young mother who lives in Tra Vinh (Ngo’s birthplace in real life) with her daughter Mai. Hai Phuong has a mysterious past connected to romantic and “professional” relationships with various ne’er-do-wells (including Mai’s absent father, who is probably a gangster), and she makes ends meet by collecting protection money from shopkeepers for the local crime boss. Little Mai pays the price for her mother’s bad reputation: she is bullied at school. Things take a turn for the worse when at the market one day not even her own mother believes in her innocence when she is accused of stealing a purse. Desperate and humiliated, Mai runs away just as Hai Phuong discovers that her daughter was telling the truth, but a moment of distraction can be fatal and the child is abducted by two shady characters. The first of the film’s incredible action set pieces follows: a breath-taking chase where Hai Phuong tries to catch up with the boat carrying the two away, first by diving into the water and then by stealing a motorcycle. An intense depiction of a mother’s desperate and unrelenting struggle to save her daughter from a fearsome gang that kidnaps children for use in organ trafficking.
“You must tolerate pain and never give up” was the motto with which Hai Phuong’s father trained her in the Vietnamese martial art of vovinam, and Furie offers Veronica Ngo and her opponents plenty of opportunities to give jaw-dropping demonstrations of vovinam in practice, thanks to the skilled work of action director Yannick Ben Haddou and fight choreographer Kefi Samuel Abrikh. Especially when it emerges that Hai Phuong’s nemesis and toughest opponent is also a woman, played by Thanh Hoa and credited in the titles as nữ quái, or female monster.
The astonishing action set pieces (as well as scenes like the memorably comic and meta-cinema one where a nurse shouts to the police in English to tell her children “I love them so much,” in imitation of the American movies from which it takes its inspiration) confirm Furie as a story focusing upon the transmission of that female strength which finds its epicentre in motherhood. Not surprisingly, Hai Phuong spares gangster Truc after his mother begs for his life; after all, isn’t she just trying to save her offspring too? The lesson to be drawn from the story of the tiger hunters told in the film is precisely that: “Never mess with a female tiger that is looking after its cubs.” And with her performance as a fierce and proud Vietnamese tiger-mother in Furie, Veronica Ngo takes her place in the history of the Asian action movie.