Vietnamese film “Furies”, which was released on Netflix in last month, is a solid but ultimately redundant prequel. As the origin story of the main villain character of “Furie” (2019), the movie shows us how that character was hardened and toughened by her violent criminal life, and it surely gives several competent physical action scenes to enjoy, but it also feels rather superficial as merely being brutal and lurid at times.
The prologue part of the movie shows how an orphan named Bi (Đồng Ánh Quỳnh) came alone to Ho Chi Minh City when she was very young. She lived with her prostitute mother in some rural region, and her mother cared a lot about Bi’s future despite their miserable daily life, but, alas, something quite traumatic happened on one day. Some drunken guy suddenly came into their residence, and this guy raped Bi and then killed Bi’s mother before murdered by Bi.
Bi subsequently ran away to Ho Chi Minh City, and she struggled a lot to survive alone during next several years. When she gets into another trouble during one evening, she is approached by a mysterious woman named Jacqueline (Veronica Ngo), and Bi soon finds herself going through a series of tough physical trainings under Jacqueline’s guidance.
In Jacqueline’s place, there are also two other young women who are not so different from Bi in many aspects. Both Hong (Rima Thanh Vy) and Thanh (Tóc Tiên) had each own painful experience as being on streets as prostitutes, and they instantly discern Bi’s damaged sides, though Bi is rather reluctant to befriend them at first. As these three young ladies live and train together day by day, they come to bond with each other more and more, and they are certainly ready to do anything for their mentor, who has a plan to get rid of a certain group of powerful (and sleazy) criminals in the name of justice.
As these dangerous criminals are introduced one by one, the movie goes all the way for the very lurid aspects of their criminal lifestyle. Besides drug business, they also manage a big prostitution organization, so we accordingly see many unfortunate women physically violated in one way or another. I understand that the main purpose of these unpleasant moments are 1) showing how rotten and evil these criminals really are and 2) making their eventual comeuppance feel inevitable and exciting, but I must point out that these scenes are also quite exploitative to say the least – especially the camera seems to be more interested in the physical details of those numerous victimized women in the film.
Anyway, the movie surely becomes thrilling whenever it is on action mode, and director/co-writer Veronica Ngo, who previously played the lead character of “Furie”, and her crew members surely have lots of fun with giving us one exciting physical action scene after another. Tóc Tiên and her two co-stars are convincing as they fearlessly throw themselves into lots of actions across the screen, and they come to look like a Vietnamese answer to Charlie’s Angels. Although some of the action scenes in the film use too much of low-budget CGIs, you can feel the considerable dedication of the performers in the film at least, and you will come to forgive its technical limits to some degree.
However, the story, written by Ngo and her co-writers Nha Uyen Ly Nguyen and Nguyen Truong, often stumbles in terms of narrative and characterization. Jacqueline is the most developed character in the film, and Ngo demonstrates again her natural screen presence as looking as commanding as required, but her character is mainly defined by the vengeful personal reason behind her plan. In case of Bi and her two colleagues, they are merely and only defined by their respective past traumas, and that is the main reason why their story of female empowerment often feels shallow and contrived.
Above all, the movie pays a bit too much attention to the villain characters of the film, most of whom are just unpleasant in cartoonish ways without looking like the really good antagonists for Bi and her two colleagues. A subplot involved with one of them does not mix that well into the story, and I was not so pleased with how it merely functions a plot device to motivate Bi and several other main characters more later the story.
During the climactic action sequence, the movie certainly pulls all the stops for giving us more of its brutal violence, but we come to observe that from the distance without much care while the movie is often bogged down by its unnecessary melodramatic elements. As a result, we are not so emotionally involved in what is being at stake for Bi and several other main characters and, and that is the main reason why Bi’s eventual transformation into the villain character of “Furie” in the end lacks dramatic impact.
In conclusion, “Furies” is not a bad action film at all, and Ngo shows here that she is a skillful action movie director who knows how to make effective action scenes, but the overall result is still one or two steps below “Furie”. Yes, that film is also pretty conventional to the core, but it is supported well by Ngo’s strong performance while also engaging us in terms of story and characters, and I think you should go back to “Furie” if you are not so satisfied with “Furies” like I was not at last night.