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Plot: Angela doesn’t like her new stepmother…

Peccati di gioventù (or Sins Of Youth, released in North America as So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… for some reason) is one of the better Gloria Guida melodramas. If Guida had never made To Be Twenty (1978) with Fernando Di Leo this, along with That Malicious Age (1975) a year later, would probably be considered some of her finest work. There’s no question that it stands head and shoulders above the futile sex comedies that Guida made a living with. Not only is So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… better written and beautifully photographed, it actually gives glorious Gloria something to do and the chance to act every once in a while. Guida wasn’t too shabby of an actress when, and if, she was allowed to do more than just take her clothes off. Here she gets that chance. Silvio Amadio was crazy about Gloria and it isn’t hard to see why… So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… is for those who can’t stomach Gloria’s regular raunchy sex comedies.

As an Italian precursor to French drama The Year of the Yellyfish (1984) So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… is a prime example of the youth gone bad thriller subgenre that experienced somewhat of a revival with infinitely lesser American imitations as Poison Ivy (1992), and The Crush (1993) and in the new millennium with French director François Ozon and his Swimming Pool (2003) with Charlotte Rampling, and Ludivine Sagnier. So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… falls smackdab in the middle between the innocuous The Minor (1974), and the equally tragic That Malicious Age (1975). One thing is painfully obvious: Amadio’s best days were clearly behind him. As utilitarian and occasionally beautifully photographed as So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… is, he was a very long way from the masterclass in suspense and sleaze that was Amuck (1972). Silvio Amadio would work with his muse one last time on The Doctor… The Student (1976). As slick and hyper-stylized as his gialli were so matter-of-fact and stilted are these.

Angela Batrucchi (Gloria Guida) loves her father. She loves her doctor father (Silvano Tranquilli) so much that she’s none too pleased that he has found a new lover in Irene (Dagmar Lassander). She’s so incensed and overcome by incestual longing with the whole situation that she schemes with her boyfriend Sandro Romagnoli (Fred Robsahm) to drive a wedge between the two. Since Sandro moonlights as a gigolo and has an older lover (Dana Ghia, as Felicita Ghia) on the side Angela orders him to seduce Irene. While Sandro is busy doing that Angela decides to dig into Irene’s past to find something, anything that she can use to blackmail her into doing her bidding. With a little sleuthing Angela uncovers that Irene had a lesbian phase in college, and decides to use that to her advantage. She plans to provide Sandro with the perfect opportunity to collect incriminating photographic evidence of Irene’s fluid sexual preferences.

For no other reason than to drive Irene completely mad Angela starts acting erratically and will fly into fits of apoplectic rage without the slightest provocation. Somehow Irene finds a way of dealing with Angela’s unpredictable and sudden moodswings. When Sandro’s plans to lure Irene into bed with him don’t pan out Angela figures that her stepmother’s lesbian inclinations are something worth exploiting. In short order Angela shows her naughty slides from her and her girl friends on vacation, randomly undresses in front of her, and showers with the door wide open. When all of that fails to have the desired effect, Angela invites Irene over to the beach where they engage in heavy petting while Sandro captures everything on photo with his camera. In her desperation Angela tries to drive Irene off the road when she spots her in town. That is the final straw, and Irene’s spirit breaks. After being locked up in her room Angela has a moment of introspection, and realizes how much damage she has caused. By that point Irene has driven off in tears, is there time for Angela to turn the tide?

Director Silvio Amadio was something of a late-bloomer. He worked his way through the obligatory comedy, adventure, peplum, spaghetti western, and melodrama features before he started to develop any sort of recognizable individual style. By all accounts Amadio seems to have been a fairly standard Italian exploitation director until around 1970. Up to that point (the late sixties) Amadio’s oeuvre had contained its fair amount of sex and social dysfunction, but neither came together quite as exuberantly as they did in Amuck (1972) (with Rosalba Neri, and Barbara Bouchet). Amadio had always been a major creative force behind the screenplays for his films, and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what led to the sudden creative upsurge. One possible reason could be the permissive social mores directly following the sexual revolution, the availability of actresses will doing to do nudity – or, both. Although the latter doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny as Island Of the Swedes (1969) had Catherine Diamant doing pretty much every iconic scene that Gloria Guida would later popularize through her work with Amadio. On first glance it seems Amadio’s entire reputation as a cult director is solely built on the back of the gialli Amuck (1972) and Smile Before Death (1972). The general consensus is that Amadio’s tenure with Guida signaled a creative downslope, something which a cursory back-to-back viewing of Amuck (1972) and Smile Before Death (1972) with any of the Guida titles certainly seems to corroborate. Which amounts to him being interesting for about two years before the inevitable decline.

Even though she was only a fixture in lowbrow commedia sexy all’Italiana for about a good 8 years Gloria worked with some of the absolute best in the business. She debuted in Mario Imperoli’s coming of age tale Monika (1974) and he launched Guida’s world-famous ass to superstardom with his Blue Jeans (1975). However it was Silvio Amadio who showed the world with The Minor (1974) that glorious Gloria could be a dramatic actress provided that the material was written to her strengths. Arguably it was Michele Massimo Tarantini who ensured Guida’s cinematic immortality with La Liceale (1975) and Mariano Laurenti kept her employed through the obligatory sequels. Once again it was Amadio who allowed Gloria to spread her wings in terms of acting a bit. Both So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… and That Malicious Age (1975) were tragedies disguised as bawdy sex comedies. One thing was clear: Silvio loved la Guida, and she’s on display in full ornate here. Amadio wastes absolutely no time in getting Gloria out of what little clothes she wears, lovingly photographing every inch of her body, and reveling in every moment that she’s in the frame. Which is a really polite way of saying that there’s plenty of naked shenanigans involving our girl Gloria. That doesn’t mean it’s crass, or vulgar – it’s tasteful, and retroactively kind of meta.

The other big stars here are Dagmar Lassander and Silvano Tranquilli. Lassander was a redhead, and a contemporary of Helga Liné, Betsabé Ruiz, Rosanna Yanni, Silvia Tortosa, Cristina Galbó, Erika Blanc, Sandra Julien, and Malisa Longo. Lassander can be seen in Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970), The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (1971), The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire (1971), a pair of Alfonso Brescia sex comedies, and The House by the Cemetery (1981). Tranquilli for about a decade was a pillar of domestic gothic horror appearing alongside Barbara Steele in The Horrible Secret of Dr. Hichcock (1962), Castle Of Blood (1964), and the gialli Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971), The Bloodstained Butterfly (1971), and Smile Before Death (1972). In comparison to both Lassander and Tranquilli, Fred Robsahm was a nobody with only the Bud Spencer-Terence Hill western spoof Carambola (1974) (cos only the Italians would make a spoof of a spoof), and the Roger Vadim fumetti Barbarella (1968).

Perhaps Amadio felt ownership over Gloria because he helped shape her career so significantly? It was 1975 and Guida was at the height of her popularity and from here her career, both as a singer and as an actress, could only go downward. She was twenty, and had spurned his advances. How else to recover from that than to make a movie about it? In the most simplest terms So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… is about a hedonistic socialite who sends a spurned older lover into suicidal despair after rejecting their advances. It all feels strangely autobiographical considering the circumstances, and it’s almost as if Amadio was directly talking to Guida in his script. That Malicious Age (1975) merely changed the settings and cut down the slapstick but it was, more or less, So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… - and it too ended in tragedy. It was Fernando Di Leo who really distilled the commedia sexy all’Italiana formula candy girls as Gloria Guida and Lilli Carati specialized in, and used the format to deliver a scathing condemnation of the patriarchal – and sexual mores of Italian society at the time. In 1981 Gloria met crooner Johnny Dorelli, and retired soon after. Guida married Dorelli in 1991, and Silvio Amadio, age 69 and 24 films in total, passed away four years later, in 1995.

Plot: They messed with the wrong woman. They will pay...

Following hot on the heels of Maria (2019) Furie (released domestically as Hai Phượng) is the quintessential martial arts movie. It’s a calculated and efficient retread of the Hong Kong Girls with Guns classic Angel (1987) (without the guns and slapstick humor), or Chocolate (2008) (with JeeJa Yanin) with the roles reversed, and it cleaned up at the box office with a hefty VND200 billion ($8.64 million) in just 4 weeks, making it the highest-grossing Vietnamese film of all time. A decade removed from Clash (2009) and seven years removed from her first Văn Kiệt feature House In the Alley (2012) Ngô Thanh Vân (better known in the Anglo-Saxon world these days as Veronica Ngo) has become an international superstar. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2016) and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) raised her profile considerably but Ngo hasn’t forgotten the homeland. She remains a beloved pillar in domestic action – and martial arts cinema. Furie is a prime example of Vietnamese action at its best.

We’ll readily admit that our knowledge of Vietnamese cinema, martial arts or otherwise, is non-existent. Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia all forged regional variations on popular American (and European) productions, and we’re familiar with Malaysia by proxy through its assocation with Hong Kong and Mainland China. It would only be natural to assume that Vietnam, given its geographic proximity and cultural similarity to its immediately surrounding nations, would not lag far behind. Furie is our introduction to director Lê Văn Kiệt and he seems cut from the same cloth as Pedring A. Lopez (in the Philippines) or Ernesto Díaz Espinoza (in Chile). Which is a long way saying that Furie is hyperstylized, slick and efficient in its minimalism. A handful of characters, a very basic storyline, and action choreography from Arab-Frenchman Kefi Abrikh that borders on The Raid (2011) and Angela Mao territory in brutal efficiency.

Life has not been easy for Hai Phượng (Ngô Thanh Vân, as Veronica Ngo). In Trà Vinh, a town and province in the Mekong Delta, she’s barely able to make ends meet as a debt collector. She lives in a rickety shack with her precocious ten-year-old daughter Le Huyn Thi Mai (Mai Cát Vi, as Cát Vy) who seems to resent and love her in equal measure. Mai is tired of being bullied, by teachers and fellow students alike, at school and has drawn up a business plan to establish a fishing farm to get out of poverty. Phuong has her own reasons for living in the backwater town that she does. She used to be a big-time gangster and hustler. Upon joining the gang she abandoned her family, and she herself was ousted from the gang once she became pregnant. One day Hai and Mai are having an argument on the market square and when she turns around again Mai has suddenly disappeared. Hai Phượng pursues the thugs and lays waste to just about anything and everyone in the way, but is unable stop them. Rebuffed by her former criminal associates and bureaucracy and corruption stopping the police from being in any way helpful, Hai Phượng hitches a ride to Ho Chi Minh City (Sài Gòn or Saigon) to start her own investigation into Mai’s abduction in Trà Vinh market.

In Ho Chi Minh City Hai Phượng traces the whereabouts of low-level enforcer Nguyen Chanh Truc (Phạm Anh Khoa) to Đường Tôn Đản where he has a car mechanic business. Hai comes from an ancient bloodline trained in the art of Vovinam, and she too was instructed by her father (Lê Bình). After beating the daylights out of Truc she learns that even the fearsome Nam Ro gang answers to the sociopathic head of a human trafficking - and organ harvesting ring by the name of Thanh Sói (Trần Thanh Hoa) and her second-in-command Sau Theo (Minh Le). Hai Phượng tracks down their base of operations, but when confronted she’s roundly defeated by Thanh Sói and her armed goons, and nearly drowned for her interference. Around this time Le Minh Luong (Phan Thanh Nhiên), seasoned police detective and Vovinam practitioner, is informed of the latest abductions. After being nearly drowned for interfering with Thanh Sói’s operation Hai Phượng is rescued from certain death by an intervention from Le Minh and his team. Looking to make the best of a suboptimal situation Hai Phượng and Le Minh Luong team up together and make a formidable two-person wrecking crew. They take the fight to Thanh Sói. Will they be able to bust the sordid operation, and will Hai Phượng live long enough to see her beloved Mai again?

Obviously Furie isn’t out to revolutionize storytelling in the no-holds-barred action movie. Far from it. Furie is, for all intents and purposes, Chocolate (2008) with Veronica Ngo in the role that broke JeeJa Yanin to a wider audience. And this aren’t some superficial similarities either. Furie tells exactly the same story and only switches the protagonists around. In Chocolate (2008) JeeJa rescued her foster parents from loansharks and here the only available parent unit unleashes veritable hell on the wrongdoers on an epic scale. Action movies work the best when the premise is simple, the lead actor capable, and the director has an affinity for whatever makes the feature tick, whether that’s martial arts or gunfights. Here the martial art discipline of Vovinam is what sells Furie. Veronica Ngo shows some impressive chops that recall Angela Mao Ying’s greatest cinematic performances. Ngo is graceful, hard-hitting, versatile, and athletic just like Mao in Lady Whirlwind (1972) and The Tournament (1974). Lê Văn Kiệt understands that the story is a mere preamble to see Ngo fight and there’s just enough character and plot development to keep Furie moving forward at a good pace. A lot of action movies tend to sag either in the middle or towards the end when the baddie is defeated, but not so Furie. Once Mai is kidnapped Văn Kiệt signals that the game is on, and it’s not until the last man falls that Furie decides upon a breather.

Just like in BuyBust (2018) and Maria (2019) before it minimalism is the name of the game in Furie. Not every movie needs a boatload of secondary characters or numerous subplots to work. Furie works because it needs not to concern itself with a boatload of secondary characters or the resolution of one, or more, subplots. Sometimes a simple premise is all you need. Look at The Terminator (1984) and Commando (1985), both were so deceptive in their simplicity. The former was a slasher movie on the model of Friday the 13th (1980) with guns instead of knives, and the latter was a xerox so blatant (or earnest) of Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) that it bordered dangerously on spoof territory. Die Hard (1988) worked exactly because the entire premise was so simple. Lê Văn Kiệt understands that less is always more in these type of movies but, more importantly, acknowledges that a relatable story is infinitely more important. The “parent looking for their kid” storyline is as old as time, and Furie tells it by way of retelling Chocolate (2008) for a Vietnamese audience. After all, the more things change the more they stay the same. Furie does nothing what Chocolate (2008) didn’t do already. The beauty of Furie lies in how graceful it goes about said retread.

Furie is bound to be remembered as a modern action classic not only because of Văn Kiệt’s slick direction or Veronica Ngo’s cutthroat performance, but because it understands what makes its protagonist tick. Couple that with top-notch action direction and choreography and Furie easily towers above the competition. BuyBust (2018) had a likeable lead but wonky action direction and uneven choreography. Somebody needs to give Veronica Ngo the chance to become the Vietnamese Michelle Yeoh that she obviously is. Had Ngo been around in the 1980s she probably was stiff competition for Moon Lee, Cynthia Khan, and Sibelle Hiu. Nowadays female action stars are far and few outside of Mainland China and maybe Hong Kong. Hollywood is still terminally afraid of the implications but will occassionally pay lipservice to the idea. It’s in no hurry to give it the chance and budgets it deserves. Thankfully other countries recognize potential when they see it. Directors like Lê Văn Kiệt or Pedring A. Lopez should be given a chance to direct a The Expendables sequel instead of wasting away working on small projects within their respective domestic cinematic industries. Furie is the kind of stuff that international breakthroughs are made of. If Veronica Ngo can break to English-speaking audiences so can Lê Văn Kiệt. Furie, simply put, kills.