Don't confuse this flick with one about Furries, or
any other perverts.
(Thanh Sói - Cúc dại trong đêm
dir: Veronica Ngo
Way, way back in the day, the only place on Earth regularly pumping out quality martial arts movies was Hong Kong. Wasn’t even close, Sure, plenty of other shmucks were trying to do the same thing, but it was embarrassing. Stop it, you’d feel like saying, sitting through one of their ghastly knockoffs, you’re embarrassing yourselves and your country.
Eventually, the skills transfer occurred in filmmaking, in the same way that British control of Hong Kong transferred to the totalitarian Communist regime in China, and other countries buffed up their film productions so that a great martial arts epic can come from anywhere.
Indonesia, India, France, now even Vietnam. Still, not Australia. Never Australia.
Furies is a brutal and highly competent martial arts flick from Vietnam. It is a prequel to the most successful flick in Vietnamese box office history, which uses the singular Furie as a title, which makes absolutely no sense to me, but I doubt that’s the title in Vietnamese.
Before my involvement here I can honestly say I’d only ever watched one Vietnamese flick previously. It was called Cyclo, back in the 90s, and about the only things I can remember about it is that it had Radiohead’s Creep on the soundtrack, which many 90s flicks were obligated to have, and it was quite moody and boring, like the average teenager.
That being said, I have seen plenty of flicks about English people, Americans and Australians in Vietnam. Most of those weren’t shot in Vietnam, and they weren’t about Vietnam. They were about how brave and heroic everyone else was in trying to “save” the Vietnamese from the scourge of Communism.
How’d that work out for you, champs?
This flick, though… It’s set in the 1990s, but it doesn’t really say anything about Vietnam or the war, or Vietnam today, as far as I could tell. It’s completely apolitical, in that it’s a brazen action flick where a woman seeking vengeance enlists the help of three girls with which to attack her enemies.
That lady happens to be Auntie Lin, or Jacqueline. She also happens to be the director of the flick. She is also possibly the coolest person I have ever seen in this or any other movie. But she’s not the main character, I think. That would be Bi (Dong Anh Quynh).
Bi is the main character because she is a rage filled force of nature who suffered horrific trauma and abuse at a young age. That alone means she deserves to have films made about her, but she’s had her specific vengeance on the piece of shit who hurt her and killed her mum. Now she’s just trying to get by on the mean streets of Ho Chi Minh City.
Auntie Lin specifically finds young women who have been targeted by gangs for the purposes of “sex trafficking”, which is really just slavery in modern form, and “saves” them in order to wreak vengeance on the sex trafficking gangs. She especially wants to take down a specific guy who rules the city and all its criminal enterprises. Along with Bi, there’s Hong (Rima Vanh Ty) and Thanh Soi (Toc Tien). Together they look more like a Vietnamese version of the punk all-girl band The Runaways, but unfortunately they don’t sing any songs, they just beat the shit out of people who really, really deserve it.
The plan, such as it is, is pretty stupid. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for excuses that allow talented women to beat three hundred shades of shit out of an endless stream of underlings, mini-bosses and then the eventual big boss – which has been the structure of video games and action movies for at least the last 40 years. But the plan itself? Less than ideal. It’s the kind of thing a drunk person scrawls on a serviette at 1am, thinking they’ve captured a brilliant idea, and then look at it hungover in the morning thinking “How did I think this plan – stab a bunch of people – was going to lead to world domination?”
Let’s just say her dedication to her mission is maybe blinding her to the obvious realities. Also, I question Auntie Lin’s dedication to taking down the patriarchy.
The thing is, though, for a good long while, the plan, such as it is, seems to be working. The girls attack various enterprises, liberate captives, steal drugs, blow some shit up, and manage to look really cool doing it. It’s almost like a 1990s Vietnam-set Charlie’s Angels, except with better acting. And the sense I get from how the 1990s is depicted here, because of the horrible war, reconstruction meant that Vietnam by the 90s was only then catching up fashion wise with the rest of the world, which is why everything looks so 1980s, leotards and legwarmers and vinyl jackets, neon everywhere, down to the awful saxophone work all over the soundtrack.
I’m not complaining, I just want to watch very athletic women take on legions of faceless goons and win, while bonding at the same time and saying “We are sisters now” and meaning it.
The main goon doesn’t make much of an impression, other than being a fairly young guy who does mountains of cocaine, yells all the time and treats women very poorly. Of course he deserves to die, because they all do. None of his goons make that much of an impression either.
For all that it is fun to watch cool people in cool attire do cool stuff, like take on and kill sex trafficking gangs, and though the flick maintains a high level of energy throughout, it’s still pretty much a tragedy, and really doesn’t let you forget that. For all that it seems like it’s exploitation-type genre stuff, there is a lot of time spent on the horrors of what these people do (I mean the criminal gangs, or just shitty men in general). And Bi, despite finding what she feels like is a new home, a new family, doesn’t think that she is really going to be able to stay out of the darkness that has defined her life.
If anything, her rages ensure that she will become consumed by the darkness. Early on it’s kind of implied that she might be neurodivergent in some way, or alternatively that she is prone to berserker-type rages, which is wonderful if you’re watching an action thriller where someone has to kill or be killed, but it’s not great from a mental health or neuro-diversity awareness perspective.
The fights themselves are well choreographed and very well shot, lots of cramped hallway fights and staged action filmed in ways reminiscent of The Raid and its sequel. They’re all great, but substantially less great is an ill-conceived sequence on scooters which looked thoroughly terrible, with cheap and nasty CGI that was completely unconvincing and which nearly made me regret paying so much to see this (I paid nothing above my monthly fee as a Netflix subscriber).
It’s so bad, but it’s almost redeemed by an insane image of Bi leaping out of nowhere with a spinning kick to launch a goon off the scooter and to his death. Excelsior!
So the film chugs along until the end, and we think we’re going to get one type of ending, and then we very much get a different type of ending due to a pretty obvious “twist” that comes along. I guess, considering the flick is a prequel, and considering that Bi here is meant to be the villain in the original flick, well, the ending is still a bruising and brutal affair.
Also, thoroughly confusing. I have no idea how the ending makes any sense, but then I am not across the Vietnamese legal system at all. I am so naïve that I figured if Bi kept her mouth shut, there was practically nothing they could have charged her with, but who am I to give quality legal advice?
Nobody, that’s who. Furies is a thoroughly enjoyable and brutal exercise in genre filmmaking. It doesn’t really give you the sense of any reality when it comes to the setting or the place (any more so than that the John Wick flicks represent anything about contemporary America other than its adoration of guns above all else), but that hardly matters. All that mattered to me is whether the film can convince me that Bi could punch a motherfucker through a concrete wall, and as the gods are my witness, she absolutely does.
7 times hell hath no fury like a woman suborned out of 10
“That's what men are. They just look at women as toys. Our suffering just excites them. We can't count on anyone to protect us. We need to make a change!” - Furies