Plot: They robbed her of her innocence. They will pay.
Thanh Sói - Cúc dại trong đêm (or Thanh Wolf - Wild Daisies in the Night, released internationally simply as Furies) is the long-awaited follow-up to Furie (2019). There always has existed a great synergy between the regional cinematic traditions of the more liberated (and Western inclined) Hong Kong, the isolationist Chinese mainland, the nearby Taiwan, and to a degree even the Philippines. Vietnam remains largely untrodden territory for us (unlike, say, Indonesia and Malaysia) but if Furies is any indication, it can easily compete with its Southasian counterparts. Furies is, for the lack of a better descriptor, a female-centric (and feminist) martial arts action movie on the model of Teresa Woo San’s classic Iron Angels (1987-1989) trilogy. Furies is to Furie (2019) what Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) was to The Terminator (1984). That is to say, it’s a thematic follow-up largely cut from the same cloth as the original that expands just enough upon the established formula to justify the retread. Furies knows its strengths and improves upon them with bigger production values and scope.
Let’s not mince words. Furie (2019) was one of the best martial arts movies that year and forever etched Veronica Ngo in our heart. Lê Văn Kiệt had made a modern classic but curiously he’s nowhere to be found here. You’d imagine that Văn Kiệt went back to the drawingboard as soon as Furie (2019) smashed its way to international fame. No such things seems to have happened. The creative force behind Furies is Ngô Thanh Vân (or Veronica Ngo as us Westerners know her). Ngo is known in the West mostly for her roles in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2016) and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) and remains mostly active in Vietnam. Ngo not only stars, but also produced, co-wrote, and directs. Where a good deal of direct sequels fail is that they insist upon not deviating from the established formula or format sometimes forcing beloved characters from previous installments into unlikely scenarios eventhough their story was either self-contained and already told. Furies shows its intelligence by realizing that Furie (2019) told the story of Hai Phượng and needed not to be told again. Instead Furies focuses upon expanding on the backstory of the villain and details the ascension of Thanh Sói to the throne of the Nam Ro cartel in Ho Chi Minh City.
Living on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City Bi (Đồng Ánh Quỳnh) was the victim of both a violent childhood and sexual assault. As a stray she survives by pickpocketing and life on the streets her made her tough. One day she runs into Jacqueline Hoang (Ngô Thanh Vân) who sees potential in Bi’s violent outbursts and penchant for casual destruction. Bi reluctantly agrees to live at her halfway house after hearing they share a common enemy, the Nam Ro cartel that operates every major crime branch in the city. At the house she lives with level-headed rock chick Thanh (Tóc Tiên) and sparkly party girl Hong (Rima Thanh Vy). They too are survivors of sexual assault and victims of a violent childhood. Aunt Lin considers her latest recruit a vital addition to her all-girl vigilante group The Wild Daisies and she teaches all three the ancient art of Vovinam and a regiment of special weapons training and infiltration techniques. Lin’s goal? To dismantle the Nam Ro cartel from the bottom up. The Wild Daisies are ordered to eliminate The Big Four at the New Century club: Long 'bồ đà' or "The Dealer" Long (Song Luân) who controls their narcotics distribution and has caused untold misery to so many, Tèo 'mặt sẹo' or "Scarface" Teo (Phan Thanh Hiền) who runs the cartel’s prostitution ring and their associated brothels, Sơn 'Lai' or "Half-Blood" Son (Gi A Nguyễn), personal bodyguard of "Mad Dog" Hai – and, finally, Hải 'Chó điên' or "Mad Dog" Hai (Thuận Nguyễn), head of the cartel. In the explosive finale the loyalties of The Wild Daisies are tested when it is revealed that not everybody’s motives are pure.
If you couldn’t tell from the plot summary above Furies is part of a decades-old cinematic tradition in Asia, the female-centric martial arts movie. Sure, it’s derivative, but its constituent parts are borrowed from some of the finest vintage 1980s Hong Kong Girls with Guns and wider Asian martial arts movies from back then and now. For starters it has the three-girl wrecking crew from Iron Angels (1987-1989). There’s the semi-mute stray that happens to be a savant martial artist from Chocolate (2008), the mainplot is lifted almost verbatim from Jing Wong’s Naked Weapon (2002) and Naked Soldier (2012) with a dash of Kick Ass Girls (2013) and some Vietnamese flavor. The Hong Kong and John Woo influence of Naked Killer (1992) is almost completely absent. Furies has that feminist undertone of Mistress Killer (2016) and Husband Killers (2017) (but is thankfully less blunt/obtuse about its political affiliation). Just like Extra Service (2017) this one prides itself on its retro 90s aesthetic of bright neon and pastel colors. As before Furies bathes in hues of green, blue, and red (somebody clearly knew their Mario Bava and Dario Argento, or simply continued what Lê Văn Kiệt started) and the 90s throwback is a good excuse to fill it with V-pop from back in the day. Thanh is the obligatory depressed grunge girl, Hong is the crazy rave chick prone to wearing outrageously revealing PG-13 outfits and bouncing off the walls, and Bi wears the expected tracksuits. Any movie that blasts 2 Unlimited’s ‘No Limit’ during a club scene always gets good points in our book. Paradisio’s ‘Bailando’ or the Vengaboys’ ‘Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom!!’ would’ve probably been too cheery for something this dark.
As always, less is usually more in these type of movies. Furie (2019) was minimal, calculated, and efficient and its story served largely as a preamble to get in as much high-octane action scenes as possible. Back once again is Arab-Frenchman Kefi Abrikh and his choreography and action direction continue to echo The Raid (2011) in sheer brutality and stark utilitarianism and the girls’ routines are in the Angela Mao tradition in that they are hard-hitting, versatile, and athletic. Đồng Ánh Quỳnh, Tóc Tiên, and Rima Thanh Vy underwent a year of rigorous martial arts training in preparation for their roles and it shows. Perhaps the best thing Veronica Ngo did was casting herself in the role of Aunt Lin in a twist straight out of the Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) playbook. It also changes the location from rickety shacks in backwater villages in the Vietnamese jungles to the neon-lit sidewalks of Ho Chi Minh City (Sài Gòn or Saigon as we know it). As a throwback to the Category III genre of old Furies has enough sex to please anyone yet Đồng Ánh Quỳnh, Tóc Tiên, and Rima Thanh Vy are never really sexualized or objectified. To her everlasting credit, Ngo herself takes more of a backseat here acting as a mentor both in front as well as behind the camera. Tóc Tiên is probably the best known of the three (or the most easily marketable) as she’s a former teen idol that turned to modeling and singing before becoming a television personality as a judge on The Voice of Vietnam and Vietnam Idol Kids. Rima Thanh Vy is the most conventionally beautiful of the three and in Western hands she would’ve been the central character. Some of the visual effects are a bit iffy, the bike chase is the most egregious and downright videogamey in part, especially in HD and 4k resolution. Other than that Furies looks and sounds spectacular and the increased budget clearly helped.
In the day and age of franchises, spin-offs, and series Furies is that rarest of sequels. It’s not so much a retread of an established formula but an expansion upon concepts of the original. Furie (2019) was a strong stand-alone feature and any sequels were not really expected (or even necessary). Regardless, Furies defies expectations by doing the same but doing it different enough to justify its existence. The retro 90s aesthetic is better realized than most of these throwbacks but it is, and remains, a gimmick. If Netflix decides to greenlight another sequel it’s time to look at how the events of Furie (2019) shaped Mai and the relation with her mother. In an ideal world mother and daughter would bundle forces to defeat a common enemy or a larger threat looming over them. Preferably without any aesthetic gimmicks. Let’s hope Maria (2019) and BuyBust (2018) eventually receive a similar treatment. Furie (2019) killed and Furies, simply put, effortlessly and elegantly kills again.