Martial-arts films have been a financial mainstay and a source of pride for the movie industries of China and Japan. More recently, South Korea, Thailand, and Indonesia have all made their entries into this field and produced films that showcase their own native fighting styles in a way that Westerners can easily appreciate. To that list, we must now add Vietnam. It’s because of Furie, the revenge thriller that is currently playing at AMC Parks at Arlington. If you’ve never seen a Vietnamese film before, this ass-kicker is a good entry point.
Ngô Thanh Vân, billed here as Veronica Ngo, stars as Hai Phuong, a woman who works as a debt collector to support her young daughter Mai (Cát Vy) in the countryside outside the city of Cần Thơ. Phuong does the dirty work so her daughter can go to school, but Mai is drawing up plans for a fish farm so her mom won’t have to be spit on by her neighbors. One day at the market, Mai is kidnapped by organ traffickers, and Phuong uses her Vovinam fighting skills from her hidden past as a big-city gangster to make the trip 80 miles north to Saigon and recover Mai before she’s cut up for spare parts.
From the first martial-arts segment, with Phuong punching, kicking, and bludgeoning her way through a couple dozen thugs in the market, you can tell that these filmmakers know what they’re doing. Fight choreographer Kefi Abrikh is an Arab-French stunt coordinator who has worked on the likes of Mission: Impossible — Fallout, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, and Dunkirk. He’s not steeped in Vovinam and therefore can’t show how this discipline differs from the other Asian fighting styles, but he still choreographs some difficult stuff that director Lê Văn Kiệt films with the requisite smoothness and clarity. A former pop music star in Vietnam, Ngô brings the fierceness that the role requires. Joining her in the martial-arts mayhem are Phan Thanh Nhiên as a cop with his own Vovinam skills and Trần Thanh Hoa as a criminal queenpin who’s more skilled at fighting than her own bodyguards or Phuong. Apropos of nothing, I’m more than reasonably excited to put these Vietnamese diacritical marks in this publication.
The plot does stop dead for Phuong to have a good cry over Mai more often than I’d like, but then, narrative sophistication doesn’t tend to be a hallmark of martial-arts films, especially from countries that are just starting to make these movies for international audience. (The Raid: Redemption isn’t blessed with an overly clever script, but you won’t hear me complain about that.) I’m just excited to have another player in the martial-arts game, almost as excited as I am about the diacritical marks. Let’s see what else this country can do.
Starring Veronica Ngo and Cát Vy. Directed by Lê Văn Kiệt. Not rated.