MOVIE REVIEW OF THE “FURIE”

The runaway success of “Taken” (2008) transformed actor Liam Neeson into an action hero in his late 50s and pumped refreshing vitality into thrillers about human trafficking.  The latest entry in this superabundant genre is Vietnamese writer & director Le-Van Kiet’s fast-paced, slam-bang, abduction saga “Furie” (*** OUT OF ****), toplining “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” actress Veronica Ngo.

As Hai Phuong, Ngo is cast as the unwed mom of an illegitimate daughter, Mai (Cat Vy of “Song Lang”), who gets snatched by kidnappers after a quarrel with another woman erupts over the theft of a purse in an open-air market.  Naturally, Hai has her share of enemies in the fishing village where she serves as a ruthless debt collector.

Hai has been raising Mai on a ramshackle riverboat for about ten years.  During that decade, both Hai and Mai have had to contend with malicious gossip as well as other indignities about the conspicuous absence of a man in their house.  Interestingly, our heroine once cracked heads as a tough-as-nails bouncer at a sleazy Saigon strip-club.  “House in the Alley” director Le-Van Kiet provides no details about Mai’s life-altering conversion from maneater to mommy, and the identity of the father never enters the plot.

At the same time, young Mai abhors her mom because Hai puts her life at risk daily as a debt collector.  Hai approaches her work with the same conviction as a Nazi storm trooper, and she doesn’t waste sympathy on any of the deadbeats from whom she collects.  Like the best outlandish but exciting thrillers, “Furie” delivers suspenseful, nail-biting sequences as well as giddy, adrenaline-laced, martial arts combat scenes.

Unlike Jennifer Garner in “Peppermint,” Veronica Ngo’s vulnerable heroine never resorts to firearms.  Instead, Hai confronts her adversaries head-on and relies on her wits and a Vietnamese form of martial arts  named Vovinam.  In Vovinam, combatants may fight either with or without weapons.  Many of her adversaries arm themselves with a variety of wicked, cutting-edge weapons that they wield with malice aforethought.

Like any mom, our tough-minded heroine only wants the best for her daughter.  She wants Mai to remain in school despite the daily gauntlet of insults and bullying that her daughter faces.  After school one afternoon, Hai catches several girls and a boy verbally abusing Mai and physically assaulting her.  Naturally, mom sends her daughters’ tormentors packing.  Nevertheless, Mai hates school and harbors no ambitions about finishing it.

She prefers mending fishing nets for a kind neighbor and buying cages to catch fish which will not only feed them, but also will provide them with a greater source of income.  Mai worries about Hai, and often the two cower in a corner behind locked doors when angry relatives of people that Hai has collected money from threatens them with physical violence.  Mind you, Hai can handle herself, but she hasn’t been raising her daughter to be a fighter.

Clearly, mother and daughter are at odds with each other.  This tension explodes in the marketplace when another woman accuses Mai of stealing her husband’s purse.  Surrounded and overwhelmed by these accusations, Hai demands an answer from Mai.  Did she steal the purse?  Defiantly, Mai shouts she didn’t.  What really hurts Mai is that her mother seems to be siding with her accusers.  When the irate women insist Mai empty her pockets so they can verify if she has stolen anything else, the little girl flees in a rage.

Taking refuge on the banks of the nearby river, Mai finds momentary tranquility until two thugs surprise and kidnap her.  As she is leaving the market, Hai spots these dastards dragging her screaming daughter against her will to their outboard motorboat.  When Hai tries to intervene, one of the kidnappers’ accomplices attacks her in the open market.  Neither he nor his partner are prepared for the devastating fight that she puts up to elude them.

During the next twenty minutes, Hai takes whatever transportation that she can to pursue the thugs who are speeding down the river.  Each time she gets within reach of these evasive ruffians, something or somebody presents a hurdle.  Ironically, she learns they are taking Mai to Saigon, the same city she left when she decided to relocate in the country to raise her daughter.

The marketplace fisticuffs and motorcycle chases are a prelude for what ensues.  In Saigon, Hai contacts the municipal police, but they are slow to react, and she doesn’t have the time to sit around and patiently wait on them.  Using the subterfuge of a headache to ask a deskbound cop for some aspirin, our resourceful heroine searches a detective’s message board and studies mug shots of suspected human traffickers.

She has no trouble thrashing information from uncooperative criminals until she comes face-to-face with Thanh Soi (Hoa Tran) who beats the rice cakes out of her.  Indeed, Hai can handle three men swinging either hatchets or hammers at her, but she is no match initially for Thanh Soi.  While she lies dazed on the floor of Soi’s warehouse, Hai memorizes the number of the train scheduled to transport scores of captured kids.

She is horrified when she learns these criminals aren’t sending these kids into slavery, but rather into surgical suites where the villains will harvest their body parts!  Eventually, a sympathetic detective, Luong (Phan Thanh Nhiên), comes to her aid and mobilizes the entire police force to investigate the train.

The emotional bond between Hai and her daughter and the dire straits that both must navigate to save each other is the core of “Furie.”  One criminal warns Luong that nobody in their right mind should dare come between a tigress and her cubs, and this summarizes Hai’s willpower to rescue her daughter.

Director of “Furie,” Le-Van Kiet and stunt choreographer Kefi Abrik, who staged the white-knuckled action sequences in “Jason Bourne,” have surpassed themselves with high-octane acrobatic fisticuffs that will have you shadow boxing as hero and heroine battle tangle with too many foes.

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