I have been passionate about martial arts for as long as I can remember. From studying Karate as a child to taking up Choy Lay Fut Kung Fu as an adult, and raiding Blockbuster for anything Bruce Lee, Tony Jaa, or Shaw Brothers related on a Friday night, the art-form has always held a great deal of importance to me. So naturally I was greatly anticipating the film we had chosen to live-tweet about this week; Furie (2019) starring Veronica Ngo as the bad ass single mother Hai in search of her daughter. And in many aspects, the film delivered in spades. The acting, script and delivery were quite strong, apparent even to a non-Vietnamese speaker such as myself. The characterization of Hai offered a fresh perspective on the female action hero, ignoring the trend of the character learning the skills necessary to take action or for the purposes of character development (as seen in Kill Bill, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Planet Terror, for example). The sets and locations were gorgeous, and I was especially impressed by the camerawork, remaining focused and controlled in the middle of intense bouts of action, even though these efforts were somewhat disrupted by the editing of certain sequences.
What impressed me the most, however, were the strong cultural ties between the genre and the overarching plot and character interactions. After all, martial arts are codified to an individual’s culture by its very nature, so it would make sense that a martial arts film would exhibit these ties using the martial arts genre as a platform. What was most evident in Furie, as with the previous film Love For Sale, was the importance of family and belonging as expressed through the notion of Heimat, a term referring to “one’s home” (Christiane Alsop, 2002). Heimat refers to both an individual’s familiar zone and as the opposition to the unknown, and this concept is explored and developed upon twofold within the film; Hai as a woman torn between the familiar (the underbelly of Saigon) and the unknown (a coastal town where she has taken residence), and the removal of her child Mai from the familiar into the unknown, mirroring Hai’s personal journey. In many ways I was able to empathize with Hai though an interest in my own ethnic background spurred on primarily by my father, whom has always been particularly fond of Malta, my family’s nation of origin. Both of his parents were born there, and he regularly visits, researches the history, architecture, food, and culture due to his own personal upbringing.
However, as an ‘outsider’ to Maltese culture and Australian culture alike, my experience mirrors Hai’s only in essence, nowhere near as dangerous yet spiritually similar. Australian by birth and Maltese by community, I do not feel at ‘home’ or comfortable within either culture, but rather a balance, which how I have come to terms with my existence, as Hai has come to strike a balance between her old life in Saigon and as an outsider in the coastal town. This is accentuated by the dogged persistence of Hai by the color red. Red is especially present and intrusive throughout each scene – Hai’s muted clothing, flashes of red in the extravagant clothing of her bosses, deep neon lighting in the alleyways of Saigon, the blood spilled on the path to justice. Red is danger, the color of violence and fury, entwining its way through Hai’s life as an outsider both in Saigon and her coastal community of residence. Yet red is not the only indication of the relationship of an individual to their Heimat, as the film’s deep and evocative color palate is utilized to its full potential, over-saturated on purpose for aesthetic purposes. The naturally occurring greens and yellows and shades between of the coastal town is juxtaposed expertly by the artificial fluorescence of the city, fraught with evil lurking in the pipes and drains and between the bricks of every strip club and betting office. Similarly, as if life were to imitate art, the warmer climate in Malta has often given myself the filmic illusion of richer and deeper saturation of colors as the heat rises and reflects off of every surface. Adding to this illusion is a matter of culture; the use of bright and quirky colors for modern exterior decor, such as doors and windowsills, is a flamboyant yet homely Maltese tradition (Tosh Bene, 2017).
Whilst Furie may seem like a tale-as-old-as-Taken on the surface, the film is actually quite an enthralling display of not just martial arts prowess, but also of familial love, the limits of community, and a mother’s bond to her child demonstrated through both physical and emotional strength alike.
Bene, T (2017). The Quirky And Beautiful Doors Of Malta – Where in the World is Tosh. [online] Available at: http://www.whereintheworldistosh.com/2017/03/01/the-quirky-and-beautiful-doors-of-malta/ [Accessed 13 Aug. 2020].
Alsop, Christiane K. (2002) Home and Away: Self Reflexive Auto-/Ethnography’, Forum Qualitative Social Research 3:3. Available at: http://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~kmacd/IDSC10/Readings/Positionality/auto-eth.pdf [Accessed 11/08/2020].
Nguyen, K. (2019). Hai Phuong. [online] IMDb. Available at: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9412268/ [Accessed 13 Aug. 2020].
Image credit: Premiere Picture, 2019