“Fureur” is one strange movie. It’s mostly in French, shot around the Chinatown community in France, and it counts among its cast members a variety of Asians, including but not limited to Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Burmese. And although the box cover will have you believe otherwise, it’s not really an action movie. Oh sure, there are some action, such as a boxing match to open the film and another boxing match toward the end, followed by a one-sided encounter on a rooftop to close things out. If anything, “Fureur” is a modern day Romeo and Juliet, with large helpings of tragedy but without the singing and Shakespeare quoting.
Samuel Le Bihan (“Brotherhood of the Wolf”) stars as Raphael Ramirez, an ex-boxing champ who now trains his young brother Manu (Yann Tregouet) to take up the mantle. Fate intervenes when Tony (Bounsy Luang Phinith), Raphael’s ex-rival, returns to town to wed his reluctant fianc’e Chinh (Nan Yu). As soon as Chinh and Raphael meet, sparks fly, and soon the two are sneaking out together. Of course this doesn’t sit well with either Tony or Chinh’s Chinese guardians, who have essentially sold her to Tony’s wealthy family. Adding to the mix is Chinh’s brother Noi (Samart Payakarun), who has come to France with the promise of a work permit to be supplied by Tony. That is, if the wedding takes place as planned.
As I said, “Fureur” is one strange movie. It has two attractive leads in Yu and Bihan, and the two have some sensual and electric scenes together. The script by director Karim Dridi goes to great lengths to avoid stereotypes and paints the different characters with surprising complexity. Also a surprise is that Raphael and Chinh’s romance is very sappy, and for a moment you think everything will work out just fine. But not so fast — as soon as the two consummate their affair, the world turns upside down for everyone involved.
In a lot of ways, Phinith’s Tony character could have been written as shallow and odious. Instead, Dridi’s script gives the semi-villain layers, and the spoiled brat comes through as more pathetic than evil. He’s a spoiled young man who has always gotten what he wanted, and the fact that he can’t force Chinh to love him drives him insane. Another good character is Tony’s father, who knows very well about his son’s ne’er-do-well nature, and does all he can to curb it before the brat can destroy the family’s good name. These aren’t obvious villains; they come across as real people, and as a result garner their share of sympathy from the audience.
The only reason I don’t give “Fureur” a higher recommendation is because it fails to live up to its cover art. Had the movie been sold as a tragic romance, then I wouldn’t have felt so negatively toward the near total absence of action for long stretches in the middle. And had the film been properly sold, I wouldn’t have felt completely compromised when tragedy of Shakespearean proportions reared its ugly head at about the same time the Noi character was finally put to use after about 80 minutes of simply standing in the background doing next to nothing.
For those hoping to see Samuel Le Bihan in action, they’ll be disappointed. Bihan practices with his brother Manu in the ring, but his only real fight comes at the end on the rooftop, and even then it’s not much of a fight. Basically it’s Raphael beating up a reluctant opponent who doesn’t fight back. As a leading man, Bihan works well with Nan Yu, who is really an attractive woman. It’s easy to see why Tony is so in love with her; actress Nan Yu is disarmingly beautiful.
“Fureur” is also pretty interesting in another way: the supporting cast is a hodgepodge of accents and origins. I was never entirely sure if Tony and his family were Vietnamese or Chinese or Thai. At one point someone introduces them as the “Chinese delegation”, but of course their last name (Tran) is obviously Vietnamese. Then later in the movie they’re rattling off in Thai to each other. And I’m pretty sure actress Nan Yu is neither Cambodian or Thai, or whatever it was her character was supposed to be in the film. Although I’m almost one hundred percent certain that Samart Payakarun is Thai. Maybe.
For an adrenaline rush watch “Ong Bak”. For an unpredictable drama watch “Fureur”. This is not an action film; it’s a romantic drama that dives off into tragedy with aplomb toward the end. The film is buoyed by distinctive and layered characters, which is more than one expects from films in this muddled genre. Consider yourself warned.
Karim Dridi (director) / Karim Dridi (screenplay)
CAST: Samuel Le Bihan …. RaphaÃ«l Ramirez
Nan Yu …. Chinh
Yann Tr’gouÃ«t …. Manu Ramirez
Bounsy Luang Phinith …. Tony
Samart Payakarun …. NoÃ¯