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by Jay Seaver

"Veronica Go."
3 stars

"Furie" has Veronica Ngo Thanh Van and not a whole lot else, and while you can often say that this sort of movie doesn't need a whole lot more than one charismatic star and enough folks to sell the other half of a fight scene to get through 90 minutes, it certainly doesn't hurt. This one has some undeniably impressive martial-arts action and precisely as much story is necessary to justify it, and while one might maybe like a bit more, the film certainly delivers what it promises.

Ngo plays Hai Phuong (which is also the film's name in the original Vietnamese), a single mother working as a debt collector in an out-of-the-way town, and the locals don't exactly hide their disdain for either of those traits, figuring she must have left the city as the result of some scandal. Daughter Mai (Cat Vy) gets bullied for it at school, and it makes for some tension in the small family. Nevertheless, when Mai is snatched off the street, Hai Phuong fights back tenaciously, following the kidnappers back to Saigon and learning that there's an internationally-connected criminal syndicate fronted by Thanh Soi (Hoa Tran) that has been selling kids' organs on the black market for years, and has likely amassed just enough for another shipment to go out tonight.

The story is basic as heck, but the screenplay is kind of clumsy, which isn't the greatest combination but also isn't bad like "convoluted and clumsy" is. There are no red herrings in it at all, not even feints toward some sort of backstory with Mai's unnamed father; indeed, Hai Phuong's past is brought up just enough to explain why she's so skilled at vovinam and can make at least a start of tracking lowlives down once she makes it to Saigon, and any suggestion that there might be any sort of corruption involved in this ring is given a wide berth. There's something downright admirable about not screwing around and just having Hai Phuong run a gauntlet, but the way things play out doesn't get the most out of it; there's downtime and diversions when the film has already made it clear that she's on a deadline. The film could certainly do with being a bit leaner and more relentless.

It could also maybe benefit from a steadier hand in the editing room at some points, although that impression may come as much from me sitting too close or what the filmmakers will be able to shoot. A fight will go from exhilarating to messy in seconds, making me wonder if the footage was kind of variable enough that there were great shots that could play out uncut and others that had to be pieced together. Even with those occasional stumbles, though, director Le-Van Kiet and his team - notably action director Yannick Ben and fight choreographer Kefi Abrikh - spend much of the movie crafting thrilling, exciting action, giving Ngo and the rest of the cast just enough room to move or be backed up against the wall, keeping enough in frame that the audience never gets the sense of doubling or other trickery, and putting together series of hits that always feel like reactions to the last rather than a pre-choreographed dance. It is, if nothing else, fierce fighting that shows a lot of athleticism on the part of the cast, and that is what the audience is there for.

(It's also got a finale spent on, in, and around a train, and train-based action almost always makes a movie better.)

It's also great to see Ngo back in a big part again years after the first big Vietnamese action boom where she co-starred in The Rebel and Clash petered out, giving this basic as heck action movie enough to make it respectable. There's nobody else in it who can compete with her as an actor, which hurts the movie when she's not punching her way through an organ-harvesting gang, but she's good enough to give it a little extra oomph when the switch gets flipped and you've got to buy how desperate she is and how much damage she's taking.

That's good enough for a weekday evening, at least. "The Rebel" is still the closest thing she's done to a classic (besides what amounts to an extended cameo in "The Last Jedi"), but she's good enough with both her face and fists that I wouldn't bet against her having a great action movie in her.

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originally posted: 03/15/19 04:06:19
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Directed by
  Le-Van Kiet

Written by

  Veronica Ngo
  Thanh Nhien Phan
  Hoa Tran

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