Director Le-Van Kiet on Furie, the action-packed Vietnamese martial arts film

Furie is the first Vietnamese film to have a wide release in the United States, and it stars Veronica Ngo as an ex-gangster whose daughter gets kidnapped by a trafficking ring. She will do anything in her power to save her loved one, even if it means beating up everyone in her path. Nerd Reactor had the chance to chat with director Le-Van Kiet, who is known for his horror films in Vietnam. The director talks about how he got into filmmaking, his love of movies, working with Ngo, collaborating in a martial arts film, and future movies.

Nerd Reactor: What got you into filmmaking?

Le-Van Kiet: I started mainly as a writer. I got into film school because of my writing. I was interested in stories, and I kind of took the plunge. I loved photography back when I graduated from college, so I kind of merged the two together. I was like, “If I can get into some great film school, then this is something for me.” And so the rest was history because I got into UCLA, and then I started down that road.

You know, I get that question a lot. That’s always the obvious answer, but thinking back now, I actually grew up with just constantly watching movies. I was just obsessed with it. The first movie I ever watched in theaters was Aliens, and then it was Rambo, Gremlins, and all these films just come to mind.

There was definitely a scene in Furie that pays homage to American movies.

Those types of scenes, we collaborated a lot with the locals to see how they feel about the scene. We didn’t want the film to be so dark where we isolated some viewers. That responded well because I see 70-year-old women going to see it and families taking their grandmas to see it. I think that’s something new that I didn’t expect.

furie veronica ngo

What was it like bringing Veronica Ngo to the project?

We came to this project very unceremoniously. She was shooting Bright in LA and she just came off of The Last Jedi, and she just kind of had an itch to do the last action film for herself. We had this idea and this script that she has been circling around. We only started with the idea of kidnapping and she just wanted to be a mother and then she just wanted to fight throughout the whole movie. That was just the start of it, and then I just slowly constructed a script and we just came into the production.

But there wasn’t a lot of confidence in the process, to be honest with you. There was one point early in pre-production where she almost backed out. She didn’t want to do it. We were actually casting somebody to replace her. There was so much fighting and it was so grueling, so if you wanted to impress the audience, you had to get to that level.

Did Veronica have a martial arts background or did she train for the movie?

That’s why we couldn’t let her go because she had an extensive martial arts background, and she continues to do action films like in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny. She was constantly doing that stuff, but it wasn’t enough I think for her artistically to just say she has a film of her own. But she started in The Rebel, more than 10 years ago, and she didn’t stop then. She was constantly doing the martial arts thing, but it was never this level or this magnitude of a film. When you mention the archetype of an action female star in Vietnam, she’s the only one that can possibly come to mind. There’s nobody else.

The action is nuts. A part of me is like, “This is almost as intense as the Raid.” I was wondering if you ever had a part where you wanted to amp it up and make the violence hardcore rated R?

It was tempting, to be honest with you. [Ngo] is a great producing partner too because she has the instinct of the audience also. We didn’t want to isolate the viewership because The Raid has a very specific audience. It’s just ultra violent and has great action that is bone-crunching and makes you cringe, but people want to watch it even more. But that’s not where we were going. We actually wanted a little taste of The Raid at the end, so that people’s expectations aren’t going to be ruined. As you can tell, we just built it up and built it up, and then at the end, there was more of The Raid moment with her fight. But we didn’t want to exhaust the action. Veronica always had a sense that this was going to be for a wider audience. In Vietnam, it’s equivalent to a rated-R film. We were conscious of the audience… not getting to the point where they can’t see it.

A few of your previous projects were too intense for the Vietnamese audience.

Yeah, I’m kind of known for that in Vietnam more than I’m known for the blockbuster hit.

Do you want to go back doing crazier stuff or do you have a different mindset now?

This film, Furie, is quite risky. If you make films in Vietnam, you definitely understand the risk level in the film. The action involves the police, and even smoking has a big issue in Vietnam. I don’t want to get into the detail of censorship since they have their own rules and laws. Yes, I collaborated with this, and I wanted this to have a wider audience. I didn’t want this to be so much my own thing that it becomes something where I can only understand it. There are so many facets, so many moving parts, your action team has to do their thing, the stunt people, Veronica as a lead actor, so you can’t be on your own doing this type of movie. You have to hear all the different factions and basically be the leader and guide them to the movie that you’re envisioning. No one guy can do a movie. That’s impossible.

Is this your biggest collaboration yet?

This movie has a lot of aspects that I’ve dealt with. The action team, the stunt team, and the bigger production in general. The filmmaking is very basic and goes down to the emotional level. That’s where I see my strengths in the movie. It’s not an action film where it’s just fight, fight, fight and you just don’t have any emotions for the character and their journey. That why I craft it for the wider audience. There’s the emotional journey for the mother, and everybody wants to see the mother win.

What does it feel like to have the first Vietnamese film getting the wide release in the States?

We never thought it would take off like this, or even have the reception in Vietnam. There’s one review that said it was rapturous, and it’s correct. They’re hungry to see this type of movie and it’s like a sense of pride. We’re overseas now, and it’s stretching out to Canada, and we’re seeing the similar reaction that there’s a pride to this movie. I guess the most surprising thing to me is that we made all the effort to put in the cultural details as much as possible. We didn’t even think that, “Oh, how would Western audiences see this or that?” It was never in our minds. It was how much heritage, culture or society we could put into the movie as much as we can. We made it as much as Vietnamese as possible. But the surprising thing for me is that the reviewers here and the fans here embrace that. It wasn’t a turn off for them.

Are you going to keep on doing movies based in Vietnam, or do you see yourself doing a movie internationally?

There are so much stories to tell in Vietnam. It’s such an exciting time. That’s the best place for a filmmaker to be in. You have such a huge amount of options and need to tell stories. I explore a lot of genres because I can in Vietnam. It always goes down to the story. If there’s a Hollywood story that I feel attached to and can say something, then I would do Hollywood. For now, there are so much great stories to tell in Vietnam; the possibilities are endless.

There are horror directors out there who are now doing these big genres or even big superhero movies like James Wan with Aquaman and David Sandberg, who did Lights Out and Shazam. Would you do something like a Vietnamese superhero?

[Laughs] I’m going in the opposite direction. I did this big action movie, and then I’m going to move into doing small horror. I like doing the whole counter effort thing. I think filmmakers that you reference are into stories. If you look at their films, there are always strong themes that they explore. Aquaman is about an individual who isn’t accepted, and it’s about family. In Conjuring and Lights Out, it’s about family.

Furie is currently playing in theaters worldwide.

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John 'Spartan' Nguyen
John 'Spartan' Nguyen 9866 posts

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