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Original Title:
Hai Phuong

Vietnam 2019

Action, Martial Arts

Le Van Kiet

Veronica Ngo Thanh Van
Cat Vy
Phan Thanh Nhien
Pham Anh Khoa
Tran Thanh

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Story: Hai Phuong (Veronica Ngo Thanh Van) led a life as a gangster and fled from her family because her parents didn't want to see her life go downhill anymore. When she got pregnant, she moved to a fisherman's village to raise her daughter Mai (Cat Vy). Now, she works as a debt-collector and therefore is held in low esteem by the villagers there. Mai, too, gets bullied at school. But for Hai Phuong it is only important that her daughter learns diligently, so that later on she can have a good life. However, there is a huge fight between mother and daughter after somebody from the market accused Mai of stealing a wallet. Mai is furious and runs away because her mother doesn't believe her and the girl gets kidnapped by some gangsters. Hai Phuong takes up the pursuit and manages to chase the gangsters to Saigon, but loses their tracks there. She goes to a police station to report the kidnapping and finds out that there is a gangster organization which has been kidnapping children for some time now and extracts kid's organs to sell them. The mother has no time to lose, she finds a clue at the police station, which could lead her somewhere, and starts investigating on her own. The leading detective Luong (Phan Thanh Nhien) has been after the gangster organization for years now and is afraid that Hai Phuong might mess things up, even though he is close to arresting the head of the organization. But nobody stands a chance against the determination of a mother...

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Review: Critics spoke highly of "Furie". I was pretty skeptical about this and after the first couple of minutes, I felt vindicated. First of all, there seems to be a lower standard for movies from Vietnam, which is actually unfair as "Blood Letter" was a pretty well-done Wuxia movie and is one of the few Vietnamese movies I still remember watching. Secondly, there is a heroine in the center of attention and it seems to have become common practice to give movies bonus points for that, instead of being gender-neutral and rating a movie for what it actually has to offer. However, as the story progresses, the action also gains momentum and towards the end, this action thriller manages to completely captivate you. Rarely has it been so striking that a movie's quality bar is raised so much over its 97 minutes running time.

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Nevertheless, the beginning is pretty underwhelming. We get an introduction into the life of mother and daughter, which drags on quite a bit. You do understand, though, why the filmmakers needed to throw light on the relationship between the two. Otherwise, how else would you be able to be on Hai Phuong's side? After all, the stoic woman cannot exactly be called a good person, as we find out later. But you have to revise this judgement a little bit when you consider the fact that she also acted as some kind of guardian for her "colleagues". Her daughter, however, means the world to her, which is also the reason why she is so tough on her. When the little girl gets kidnapped, there is a wild chase and we get our first action sequences. The choreography here is rather minimalistic and there are some scenes featuring slow motion, which turn out rather unspectacular. So, is that all the movie has to offer?

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Intermittently, there are some action sequences, and even though the director tries too hard to get more dynamic into those scenes by using shaky camera work and, by the look of it, playing them back one and a half times the speed of the original recording - which might suggests that the actress or rather the choreographer knows little about her/his craft -, the action sequences suddenly start to become more fun. Eventually, the fights get more complex and during the showdown after the actual showdown, the heroine even takes on a group of gangsters who are armed with guns. This is actually impressive and during the last third of the movie, at the latest, even martial arts enthusiast will get their money's worth. However, that also brings forward another point of criticism. How is it possible that at the beginning you get the impression that Hai Phuong is just a gangster who has been in some fights before and takes her desperation about her daughter's kidnapping out on the bad guys, while later on, she suddenly turns into a martial arts expert?

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Eventually, we get to know through flashbacks that Hai Phuong's father was indeed a martial arts master and trained her. But does that mean that her martial arts expertise has been lying dormant and because of the challenges during her attempt to save her daughter, it suddenly resurfaced? Whichever way you look at it, there is no satisfactory answer for that. The flashbacks into Hai Phuong's past are quite interesting, though, as we get a glance into her family relations and we get to know - at least the topic is touched on - how she went astray. Ngo Thanh Van ("The Rebel") does a great job in combining her relentlessness with a certain kind of vulnerability. And so, one moment she cries over her kidnapped daughter and in the next she suddenly fights her way through a bunch of gangsters. What makes the fights exciting is the fact that she is not invulnerable, but actually bleeds and is in pain. This makes up a good portion of why the heroine appears to be so human to us.

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Thanks to the production by Netflix, the pictures are crisp and the dark sets create a nice thriller atmosphere. Another nice aspect is that the director seems to have put a lot of thought into the sets as well, so that they all have their own character, like in the train sequence. However, the special effects are not at their best here. It is also interesting that in a communistically ruled country like Vietnam, women get their deserved screen time, since the movie's antagonist is also female. In that respect, Western democratic countries could learn a thing or two from this movie. Especially because it just seems natural that there is a woman in the lead and this fact is not constantly forced upon the viewer in an embarrassing way, like in "Captain Marvel" for example. To conclude: After a rather weak beginning, "Furie" gains a lot of momentum and turns into a well-done action thriller with a human heroine and nice fights.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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