Furies Brings a Ferocious New Level of Violence to the Revenge Prequel
Veronica Ngô’s headshots put John Wick to shame.
Ngô Thanh Vân, known in the U.S. and abroad as Veronica Ngô, is hot on the John Wick franchise’s trail for the “most headshots per movie” race. In Furies, her second go-round as director, bullets fly at noggins like honey bees to coneflowers, dispatching thugs left and right with casual impunity. Guns and martials arts aren’t new bedfellows, exactly, but the recent popularity of gun-fu, where punches and kicks unite with 9mm muzzle blasts, is relatively modern. Coming from Ngô, it’s even a bit of a surprise.
Beating anonymous bad guys into pulp is martial arts cinema’s bread and butter, but every now and again, a well-placed projectile makes a good, abrupt, and very splattery alternative. Furies’ splatter patterns trend toward vicious blows to the body — very much in Ngô’s wheelhouse, as tracked by The Princess, her 2022 medieval fantasy martial arts team-up with Joey King, and especially Furie, her take on the “retired criminal” revenge flick. Like Iko Uwais and Tony Jaa, Ngô’s association to action is through bone-shattering smackdowns and not through gunfire, but that’s part of what makes Furies exciting — seeing her incorporate a new wrinkle into her work.
It’s worth acknowledging Furies as a semi-prequel to Furie, though they relate better as women-driven action movies with a shared kinetic style. These films coordinate their action with a dynamic verisimilitude, too; when a stuntman takes a fist to the jaw, the impact reverberates through ours. The lesson here is that it’s nice not being the person getting their butt whipped on camera, especially when Ngô’s the one doing the whipping.
For the most part, Ngô takes a breather on Furies and lets her talented cast do the legwork: Dong Anh Quynh as Bi, Ngô’s lead, and her co-stars, Tóc Tiên and Rima Thanh Vy, as Thanh and Hong, respectively, star as a collective of women exploited and abused from their youths by a diverse array of men — mostly depraved, occasionally greedy, and sometimes both. Ngô doesn’t appear to equate filmmaking with community service, but she still takes care to establish Furies in a civil ecosystem that’s ambivalent toward discarded, lonely little girls. They don’t leave their childhoods behind them; frankly, they can’t. The horrors they learn as kiddos follow them forever.
This makes Bi, Thanh, and Hong perfect fodder for Jacqueline (Ngô), the Charlie to their Sabrina, Jill, and Kelly. But Jacqueline and her girls aren’t angels. They’re closer to what the title calls them: the Furies, those terrifying Greek goddesses of vengeance. Jacqueline cuts an enigmatic figure; her alleged mission is to eliminate Hai Cho Dien (Thuan Nguyen), a money-hungry sociopath who built a criminal empire on drug running and sex trafficking. Destroying his operation, Jacqueline reasons, means sparing countless innocent women and girls the same fate as Bi, met in the film’s opening as a child, fending for herself alone after a drunk john murders her mother.
Furies is a close cousin to movies like Gunpowder Milkshake, The Villainess, Kate, and Colombiana, centered on female assassins orphaned as girls and who then reckon with their tragedies as adults. But the movie shares DNA with The Man from Nowhere, too, and Indonesian action cinema, like The Night Comes for Us and Gareth Evans’ Raid films. Ngô and director of photography Phu Nam treat the camera like a participant in each fight, pushing into the fray as her primary cast and the stunt team carry out choreographer Samuel Kefi Abrikh’s ferocious melees. Furies’ violence is intimate. The emphasis, of course, is on the “violence.”
Nothing is held back here. Hyper brutality rules every action sequence. This is a feature, not a bug, an aesthetic increasingly prized in contemporary action; anything less than full-bore deconstructions of the human form reads as antiseptic by comparison. There is a neat dovetailed effect between Furies’ material excess and the excesses that make Hai such a despicable scumbag. Jacqueline fights fire with fire. Bi is her human torch.
Dong brings suitable scorching rage to her role, which will come as a relief to Ngô’s fans. It’s a dicey proposition, taking a backseat in her own movie, but Ngô chooses her cast wisely. Dong, Toc, and Rima gel well as surrogate sisters, and as high-functioning action heroes. But Dong is the most remarkable of all, unleashing her inner monster in a performance that’s one part sympathetic and two parts frightening. She adds layers to Furies’ overarching nihilism, too; whether intended or not, the film suggests that the female condition is hopeless and helpless, because no matter how hard women fight, and no matter if they win, they exist in a man’s world where empathy for their plight is a rare commodity and extenuating circumstances don’t factor.
Again: Ngô is a filmmaker and action star, not a social worker. Her job is to orchestrate jaw-dropping moments of mayhem and the utter destruction of waves of faceless henchmen. It’s why Furies’ fights are to be praised, and why a mid-movie motorcycle chase is to be puzzled over. Next to the gravity of the movie’s martial arts battles, the scene is out of place — the actors look like they’re sitting on bikes backgrounded by green screen, leaving the impression of anime’s influence on the sequence. Maybe that’s the point, or maybe Furies just didn’t have the budget for a practical shoot. It’s a certainty, though, that the rest of the movie is so good on so many levels that one flawed scene isn’t worth picking over. Ngô brings savage athleticism to Furies, and beneath that, a sentimentality that recalls 1980s Hong Kong cinema — doomed though the sentiments may be.