Do not get between a mother and her children. Ever.
dir: Lê Văn Kiệt
Well, now I can say I’ve seen 3 Vietnamese flicks.
It was inevitable that I was going to see this, the first in what I assume is eventually going to be at least a trilogy of violent Viet flicks where women beat three hundred shades of fuck out of their opponents in order to protect themselves and those they love.
It also helps, of course, that it was so conveniently accessible on Netflix.
I’m not going to argue about how the title in English makes less sense, but I can see how they didn’t want people to confuse this flick with the recentish flick Fury about Brad Pitt and an angry tank. In Vietnamese the title of the flick is the name of the protagonist, being Hai Phuong.
This flick is set contemporarily. The flick Furies, which is pretty much the origin story for the main villain here, called Thanh Soi, was set in the 1990s. The main character in Furie is played by Veronica Ngo. She also plays a character seeking revenge on the jerks who butchered her family in Furies AND she directed it as well. Now you should be thoroughly confused.
Just to be very flippant for a sec, I liked Furie plenty, but Furies is probably a better flick, mostly because it triples down on everything, especially the violence, and is less of a melodrama. But that’s just by the by.
Let’s focus on this one, aye? Hai Phuong lives a quiet life in the countryside. Plenty implies that she’s way better, and way meaner than the peasant folk that surround her. Like the trigger for all these kinds of action flicks, someone makes a terribly stupid mistake and kidnaps her kid. They don’t do it deliberately, as in, they’re just a gang of jerks who kidnap kids. It’s their bread and butter.
But the cardinal mistake is that they kidnapped her kid, not knowing or caring that she would punch a hole through the world in order to get her kid back, let alone destroy their gang, and all their hopes and dreams for the future.
In the beginning, things don’t look too promising. I mean, she’s a hick in the sticks, what’s she going to do against an entire gang? She doesn’t have much of a plan, either, in that she seems to wander into Saigon, which is a city of over 9 million souls, and just wanders from street corner to street corner plaintively crying out her daughter’s name “Mai, Mai…”
But nah, she’s smarter and more resourceful than that. She goes to the cops, ignores their reassuring words, but steals their paperwork, targeting people who know people involved in the kidsnatching trade.
This is pretty bleak stuff, somehow even nastier than the emphasis on “sex trafficking” in the more recent Furies prequel / second instalment. Sex trafficking is an awful euphemism for slavery, just as kidnapping turns out to be something of a cover for “abducting children and taking their organs”, which is pretty much just the murdering of kids for profit.
Even typing that shit makes me sick to my stomach. The film hopes, if you’re still watching it, that that nausea becomes transformed into righteous indignation, such that when Hai Phuong starts killing motherfuckers brutally, you’ll totally be on board with her noble and entirely justified crusade.
I know I was. I guess it’s convenient that the protagonist comes from a family of martial artists, and she herself is expert in vovinam which I guess is their “national” martial art, which explains how she gets as far as she does. It’s also strongly implied that she was some kind of enforcer in the underworld before she left Saigon to raise her daughter Mai in the relative safety of the countryside.
The flick does spend an absurd amount of time having characters tell Hai Phuong either how much of a shitty daughter she was, or how shitty a mother she is. There is a long sequence of Hai Phuong herself wailing about what a shitty mother she is. I’m all for character development and self-flagellation, but so much time is devoted to it that it really makes the flick seem like less of an action flick and more of a weepy melodrama. Even the soundtrack shifts to treacly piano and heart-tugging strings…
I don’t think she’s a shitty mother at all. Maybe she could have been a bit less keen to fit in with her peasant peers: that was a fool’s paradise – you’re never going to fit in the with hicks, they hate yer fucking guts, and they were always waiting for the moment to turn on you and your daughter.
The tack they take in this flick is not a cold, ruthless sort Terminator-ing her way through Saigon’s underworld, instead they have the hysterical and desperate mother screaming “where’s my daughter?” at everyone in earshot, falling to the ground crying out “Mai, Mai” when she gives in to despair, in between beating the shit out of people.
And just when it looks like she’s found her, miraculously almost, she meets Thanh Soi for the first time, who is built like a brick shithouse, and fights like she really enjoys fucking people up, and wow, does she fuck Hai Phuong up big time.
Thanh Soi brutally looks and fights like someone who spent 16 years in jail, which is her backstory, and has come out wanting revenge against the world for the time she’s lost, and yet she made good use of that time. She is played by an actual person, but she could really be straight out of a fighting game, possibly less Streetfighter and more Mortal Kombat.
Of course maybe it seemed like the flick was going to end half way through, with Mai lost to slavers / organ thieves, Hai Phuong dead, with Evil prevailing, and Justice / Revenge unserved best as a dish cold or otherwise, but if you thought that’s where it was going to end, well, you haven’t seen that many action flicks.
Luckily, the characters here have seen action flicks, especially American action flicks. After Hai Phuong ends up in hospital, a nurse is moved by her plight, and her dedication to her daughter, and elects to help her escape the clutches of the medical industry, Big Pharma, and the pigs (cops). The nurse actually asks Hai Phuong “have you ever watched American action movies?”, before it cuts to the next scene where Hai Phuong takes the nurse as a pretend hostage in order for both of them to flee the hospital.
A cliché action trope doesn’t become less cliché just because you bring it to the audience’s attention, but at least it’s a bit tongue in cheek, in case we thought a flick where a woman tries to punch her way towards Justice to save some kids from having their organs taken had become too serious.
The fights, well, they’re okay, varying from kinda unconvincing to pretty great. I think by the time the sequel / prequel came around, the makers concluded that they should follow the template set out by Elvis and have A Little Less Conversation and plenty more action, to satisfy the audience. Now with two flicks in the series, we can identify motifs and trends, and these flicks apparently are always going to have a terrible CGI sequence, and this flick’s unconvincing scene involves a train, When they’re in the train, the fights and scenery are fine. When they fight outside, well, it occurs in this weird twilight fuzzy realm that no-one believes in, which looks less real than the Upside Down. But that’s okay, I don’t begrudge them doing that. Far less people are harmed when they use heavy CGI for sequences that would otherwise be dangerous for the actors and the stunt crew. As much nostalgia as I might have for the early days of Jackie Chan and the insane stunts he and his fellow actors did, I don’t think any movie is worth death or the incredible damage these people used to do to themselves or each other.
All them broken bones…If there’s one thing the flick doesn’t pull off convincingly, it’s that of course Thanh Soi is the Big Bad, and of course the hero loses the first time, only to come back bigger and better for the finale. But…man, at no stage did it look like Thanh Soi could lose to Hai Phuong. But I didn’t write the script, and I didn’t stage the fights, so it’s not up to me.
Don’t get me wrong I didn’t want the villain to win – it’s just that, how did this magnificent tattooed juggernaut of supreme violence lose?
It’s a mystery. I was happy with this flick. It’s not the greatest, but it’s more than good enough. It’s definitely a Thursday night watch (for me), which means I was a lot less critical and far more receptive than I usually am (the other six nights of the week).
If the flick has a message, it’s that you shouldn’t steal kids and harvest their organs. It’s very bad, and eventually someone comes along and beats your brains out, and you’ll deserve it too, you rascal.
7 times there are lots of Sounds and Furie, signifying plenty out of 10
“But the hunters also know not to put their hands on them. Do you know why? Never touch a tigress that's guarding her cubs. She will never forget it for the rest of her life. She will track them down... only to kill the damn hunters who took her cubs.” – gee I wonder who he could be talking about - Furie