In the past decade or so, smaller Asian film nations have been doing their best to grab some of the world's attention, action cinema being one of their most common lures. With the help of Netflix, Veronica Ngo was able to make a sequel to Fury, a Vietnamese action flick that did pretty well a couple of years ago. Sequels are rarely improvements on the original, but in this case, the extra budget was put to good use. Furies [Thanh Sói] is a bigger, bolder, and more colorful upgrade of the first one, making it a lot easier to forget about the film's minor defects.
It's not that we're seeing these types of films pouring out of Asia, but from time to time someone out there is ready to try and replicate the success of The Raid. Furies isn't quite on that same level of action, but what it lacks in constant fist fights and over-the-top action choreography, it makes up for with alluring settings and colorful cinematography. I don't watch too much Vietnamese cinema, but keeping the work of Ahn Hung Tran in mind, they certainly have a knack for creating beautiful-looking films. I guess I should make more of an effort for keeping up with their cinematic output.
Adding a slightly more contemporary pull to the film is the fact that we're dealing with a team of four women taking on a gang of criminal men. It's the kind of girl power that would no doubt cause a bit of a ruckus in the US, except that this isn't a US film and they don't give a rat's ass about foreign cinema over there. Films with strong female leads/action stars are less uncommon in Asia, still, it's always nice seeing more capable women kicking ass on screen, especially with some of Hong Kong's biggest action stars aging (and/or moving to Hollywood to pursue a different kind of acting career).
The plot is rather basic, but that's okay for an action flick. All you need is a good setup, and the film has that covered. Bi had a hard life growing up. Her mother was poor and sold herself to men in order to provide for Bi. One day one of her clients comes around when she's not home and he throws himself at Bi. The following scuffle escalates and both her mother as well as her assailant stay behind dead. Bi burns the evidence and moves to the big city, where she is found by a mysterious woman who heads a small gang. They try to stand up against the criminals that treat them like dirt.
Colorful and bold, that is the best way to describe the eye-catching cinematography. The film seemingly took a few notes from Thai cinema, sporting lots of deep greens and purples, but the colors are more vibrant and the nighttime setting allows for a little extra neon to be used. The camera work is good too, with a camera that isn't shy to move around while looking for interesting angles. Add some cool costumes and fun settings, and all these things combined make for a film that offers constant eye candy. Without a doubt the strongest part of Furies.
In contrast, the soundtrack is rather generic and fails to stand out. It's not the worst crime an action film can commit, but a good score can definitely add an extra layer of energy to the action, so it still feels like a missed opportunity. It's not that the music is bad or actively distracting, it's just that it is little more than background noise to fill an otherwise empty space. The film does make an effort to spruce up the action scenes with some cooler tracks, but as is often the case with soundtracks, the attempts are half-hearted and the result feels a little helpless.
The performances are good, though within the limited context of an action flick. None of the actors here are going to be winning any prizes for their work, but that's beside the point. They are good enough to struggle through the more dramatic parts, more importantly, they stand proud when it's time to start kicking ass. The four leads all appear very capable and they each bring something unique to the table. It's nice to see Veronica Ngo make a return in front of the camera, but this time the focus goes to Quynh and she handles things remarkably well.
Furies is a core genre flick. That means you shouldn't expect too much in the way of surprises or originality. Once the lines are set out the film follows a very familiar path, with a group of women banding together to take revenge on the type of men that made their lives miserable. Yes, there are a few plot twists later on, but as the story is hardly the main attraction, their impact is mostly limited to who is fighting who on screen. I'm fine with all of that as I didn't really care for the plot to begin with, but people expecting more in terms of writing might be a little disappointed.
It's a bit too early to say whether Vietnam is making strides to establish itself as a growing (genre) film industry, this could just as well be a random one-off, but it sure is nice to see these films come from less talked about countries. Especially when they're done as well as Furies. Bad-ass action scenes, striking cinematography, and a bunch of colorful characters elevate a rather basic filler flick into a clear and confident genre highlight. If you're craving some prime Asian action cinema, Furies is a film that won't disappoint, but you'll need to be a style whore to get the most out of it.