From popular action auteur Johnnie To comes a new crime thriller called Three (San ren xing), starring Louis Koo, Zhao Wei, and Wallace Chung. Set predominantly in the emergency room in a hospital, Three centers on, well, three individuals: a criminal, a cop, and a surgeon. When a police operation goes sour, it results in the criminal, Shun (Chung), being shot in the head and somehow miraculously survives to tell the tale. To his advantage, it was the police who were in the wrong and who don’t want Shun to live. While in the hospital, Shun learns he has six hours before his wound becomes inoperable. Shun decides to refuse surgery from the overworked Dr. Tong Qian and taunt the police, especially Chief Inspector Ken, until his criminal associates can arrive to help exact revenge on the police.
Johnnie To films can be very hit or miss, but I found Three to sit right in the middle. I found much of the dialogue and resulting acting to be a little cheesy, which resulted in me not being nearly engrossed in the film as I should have been. There was never a point where I cared about who lived and who died. I understood the struggles everyone was facing but my inability to empathize with any of the characters prevented me from connecting with the film in any way.
On the other hand, and in true To fashion, what makes Three clever, is that there are the puppets and then a puppet master. The way the story is crafted, you can clearly see Shun working both the doctor, who wants to see the patient survive, and the chief inspector as well, who only wants to see Shun die to avoid repercussions for his team’s actions. At the same time, while others don’t realize the full intentions, Shun and his team are plotting something large in the hospital that we, the audience, know will appear in the finale.
SPOILER The entire film is being built-up to an action oriented climax, one you know that’s coming and, in the hands of Johnnie To, one that you hope is explosive. In many ways, this scene was both impressive and underwhelming. Instead of the climax being a blood bath of intensity, what we get is a coolly crafted, uniquely shot symphony of flying bullets and hospital destruction. When you watch the film, you expect a merciless escape by Shun and his crew, but instead we get a futile suicide/rescue mission that ends with the characters possibly becoming better people but without learning about the repercussions of their actions and the hospital attack they were, in many ways, responsible for. END SPOILER
What made the above climax underwhelming was that it wasn’t bloody. For so much destruction, death, and injuries, there wasn’t any blood to match the chaos. I felt for something as violent as this shootout was, To made sure to decrease the effects of the violence, which doesn’t feel like his style.
Additionally, half of this scene was in slow motion, so the intensity dropped off and left my heart rate beating at the same pace it had been the entire film, which was unfortunate. That being said, in exchange for the intensity, To was able to craft a beautifully shot scene. I personally enjoyed how they stitched the fire fight together and made it feel more intimate, giving us a clear idea as to who was actually being shot and how others managed to evade injury. This scene showed us why To is a directorial legend and how he manages to keep on delivering something fresh in his films.
Overall, Three was a mixed bag of cinematic goodies. While annoying dialogue was a constant throughout, Johnnie To still managed to craft a clever dramatic triangle that could keep some viewers entangled in the story’s web of deception but others yearning for a stronger scripted effort. It’s not nearly as intense as I would have hoped for in a one-room crime thriller, but this film has its merits including its use of limited space to get creative cinematically, giving us a climax that’s fun but also a bit disappointing.
Three is now available on digital from Well Go USA and will hit DVD/Blu-ray shelves on April 4.
- Making of:
- Master Director Johnnie To
- Three Complex Characters