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Plot: beach babes defend their favorite resort from greedy developers.

Before Kick Ass Girls (2013) there was Beach Spike, or a Mainland China sports movie that is part Sunset Cove (1978) (without the rampant nudity), part Shaolin Soccer (2001) or Blue Crush (2002), and all fun. Instead of surfing or soccer Beach Spike (released domestically as 熱浪球愛戰, or Heatwave Love, which makes about as much sense as the title it ended up being released under) is about beach volley, or just a preamble to put a bunch of cute Chinese models in tiny bikinis and have ‘em bounce around in the sand. It was the first time Chrissie Chau Sau-Na, DaDa Lo Chung-Chi, and Hidy Yu Xiao-Tong co-starred together, and they would reunite for the amiable kickboxing romp Kick Ass Girls (2013). There’s probably worse ways of spending an hour and a half than in the company of giggly, hard-bodied Chinese girls in tiny candy-colored bikinis. In the years since Tony Tang Tung-Ming hasn’t exactly been prolific as either a director, screenwriter, or special effects artisan, but that doesn’t make Beach Spike any less entertaining. Beach Spike in all likelihood was one of Chrissie Chau’s earliest hits as it was fourth highest-grossing titles at the Hong Kong box office in its opening week. Not bad at all for what’s essential a rom-com/sports movie hybrid.

If Beach Spike was indicative of anything it was that Chrissie Chau Sau-Na was destined for bigger and better things than the rank ghost horror and romantic comedies she had been making a living with by that point. Chau rose to fame as a lang mo model with her 2009 and 2010 photobooks. Chrissie was the subject of a legendary Slim Beauty boutique commercial in 2009, directed by Tony Tang Tung-Ming, and that the two would end up working together again was all but inevitable. Chau won several Yahoo Asia Buzz Awards including "Yahoo! Entertainment Spotlight Person" in 2009, four for "Most Searched Photos on Yahoo!" in 2009–2012, and "Most Popular Actress Award". Cutting a dashing 32D figure the Chinese once-and-future queen of cleavage would become spokesmodel for luxury lingerie brand Lamiu, launched her own multi-million ShowNa Collection (秀娜系列) bra line in 2012, and heads up her own business empire with LAANAA. Not that bad for a young Sino girl without any formal model training.

On the acting front miss Chau appeared in a seemingly endless - and frequently interchangable - barrage of ghost horrors, action, and fantasy wuxia webmovie features including, but not limited to, Cold Pupil (2013), Lift to Hell (2013), Kick Ass Girls (2013), The Extreme Fox (2013), and the Jing Wong comedy iGirl (2016). After a decade in the dregs of Mainland China cinema Chau won the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Actress for 29+1 (2017) and a year later would legitimize herself as an A-lister on Yuen Wo-Ping’s Master Z: Ip Man Legacy (2018). Not bad at all for the girl that became an internet phenomenom in 2009, and was publicly ridiculed and called a “bimbo” by veteran actor Raymond Wong. For Beach Spike Chrissie received the “Award of Merit: Leading Actress" from The Accolade Competition. Chau has worked in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and Malaysia, and but it’s unlikely that she’ll ever breakthrough internationally the way Ni Ni, Yu Nan, Fan Bingbing, or Jade Xu have done as sweet Chrissie speaks little English, or that’s the impression she’s giving off at least.

In Hong Kong there lies a seaside resort called Paradise Cove and working in the beach restaurant are the sisters Sharon (Chrissy Chau Sau-Na) and Bee (Theresa Fu Wing). They live with their uncle and auntie Tao (Lo Meng and Sharon Yeung Pan-Pan) who have instructed them in the ways of martial arts and have them busting tables. The sisters love volleyball and are adored by everyone for their bright smiles and high spirits. One day Sharon nearly drowns while swimming and is rescued by Tim (Law Chung-Him), one of the waiters in uncle Tao’s restaurant and the eldest scion of the wealthy and well-connected Bu dynasty. Sharon and Tim spent a lot of time in each other’s company and the two fall madly in love. Tim’s sisters Natasha (Phoenix Valen) and Natalie (Jessica Cambensy, as Jessica C) consider Sharon and Bee bad news and challenge them to a volleyball match. Sharon and Bee suffer a humiliating defeat and in the aftermath Mrs. Bu (Candice Yu On-On) issues an eviction note. The resort will be sold off to developers and turned into a luxurious playground for the rich and famous. The only way to keep Paradise Cove is to win the Hong Kong Beach Volleyball Championship. Sharon and Bee agree to a rigorous training regimen from uncle Tao, but do the girls have what it takes to save their beloved resort from being sold?

If DOA: Dead or Alive (2006) was a pretty composite adaptation of the Dead Or Alive series then Beach Spike is that Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball adaptation the world never got. As a romantic comedy (what this really is before becoming a fairly standard, and thus pedestrian, underdog sports movie) it has the same trappings that made Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball a popular sub franchise. That is to say, there’s plenty of opportunity to get an eyeful of the girls bouncing around in tiny bikinis, to have them go on dates, splash in the sea, and generally be giggly and fun-loving. The other reason, besides Chrissie Chau Sau-Na is much in-demand model Jessica Cambensy (who comes from an American father and Chinese-Filipino mother) who has worked in Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Japan as a brand hostess for Cliniqué, L'Oreal, Max Factor and appeared in Marie Claire and CosmoGirl. As always with international versions a few character names change. Depending on the print Chau is either called Sharon or simply Chrissie, and Bee becomes Kim. Likewise, Jessica C and Phoenix Valen become Natalie and Natasha, respectively with their last name Brewster instead of Bu. Law Chung-Him’s Tim, for obvious reasons, remains intact.

The reason to see Beach Spike isn’t so much the sports element which is utilitarian at best, but to gawk at the assembled bronzed hard bodies of Chau, Wing, Jessica C, and Phoenix Valen as well as DaDa Lo Chung-Chi, and Hidy Yu Xiao-Tong. For the women there’s the bared chest of Alex Lam Chi-Sin that gets plenty of screen time too. Kudos to Chrissie Chau, Alex Lam Chi-Sin, and DaDa Lo Chung-Chi for pulling double duty while this was being filmed as they were engaged in filming the Jing Wong produced Marriage with a Liar (2010) during the night with Patrick Kong Pak-Leung. Also to be seen is sometime Hong Kong martial arts – and action star Sharon Yeung Pan-Pan and wuxia regular Candice Yu On-On. Pan-Pan worked frequently with Godfrey Ho Chi-Keung and shared the screen with wuxia pillars as Lo Lieh, Ti Lung, and Casanova Wong as well as 80s HK Girls with Guns action stars Moon Lee, Oshima Yukari, Sibelle Hu Hui-Chung, and Kara Hui Ying-Hung. On-On on the other hand got her start with Goldig Films but was quickly and frequently employed by Shaw Brothers. Sharon Yeung Pan-Pan was responsible for the action choreography and her routines are fluent, graceful, and stylish but never excessive or overly flashy. As expected Beach Spike never engages in Hong Kong styled antics, and whether that is to its advantage or to its detriment is entirely up to one’s personal preferences for these things.

For those of whom DOA: Dead or Alive (2006) was lacking on the beach volleyball front Beach Spike is probably a good alternative. That she ended up working with master philistine Jing Wong is not all that surprising considering the amount of comedies Chau has done over the years. In recent years Chau has worked very hard to legitimize herself after spending what seems like a small eternity in the Mainland China webmovie circuit. She may not be as versatile as, say, Ni Ni or willing to lower herself to Category III the way Daniella Wang Li Danni has, and that’s admirable to say the least. It sort of makes you wish Chrissie Chau would end up working with Tsui Hark, or somebody of similar repute. If anything Beach Spike was a start, and ample evidence that Chrissie is a pretty good comedic actress if the material suits her. In all other cases Beach Spike is an enjoyable Mainland China take on Shaolin Soccer (2001) – and knowing how annoying and kinetic Sino comedy can get, this could have been far, far worse.

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.