HK Magazine - - FILM -

Known for Hong Kong cop-ver­sus-crim­i­nal clas­sics such as the “Elec­tion” movies and “PTU,” the ven­er­a­ble John­nie To is no stranger to firearms-packed plot­lines re­volv­ing around com­pli­cated char­ac­ter en­tan­gle­ments, and he’s at it again with “Three”—though this time on a de­lib­er­ately tighter, smaller scale.

The film re­volves around the con­flict­ing philoso­phies of three main char­ac­ters: Ta­lented but stressed neu­ro­sur­geon Tong Qian (a weath­ered-look­ing Zhao Wei), tac­i­turn cop In­spec­tor Chen (the ever-stoic Louis Koo), and wily, smi­ley bank rob­ber Shun (Wal­lace Chung), who for much of the film is con­fined to his hospi­tal bed. With a bul­let lodged in his head, the thief re­fuses brain surgery, stalling for time in an ef­fort to en­able his ac­com­plices to res­cue him. And as he tries to throw the cops off with Ber­trand Rus­sell analo­gies, Tong and Chen ar­gue about his fate: Should he live? Is he to be trusted? Can he be ma­nip­u­lated as bait for a much big­ger catch? Given the di­a­logue-driven na­ture of the film, es­pe­cially in its con­fined hospi­tal set­ting, it feels very much like a stage play.

“Three” is built like a lab ex­per­i­ment. Shot en­tirely on a spe­cially con­structed hospi­tal set, To plays around with ev­ery­thing: From in­no­va­tive shoot­ing tech­niques such as a shot that looks like the in­side of a brain mem­brane dur­ing surgery; to one long, sym­phonic take in which ac­tors de­liver slow­mo­tion moves in real-time; to keep­ing the en­tire process fluid— long­time col­lab­o­ra­tor Yau Nai-hoi’s screen­play was ap­par­ently fi­nal­ized scene by scene, just min­utes be­fore the cam­era rolled.

Adding to the ten­sion is a mot­ley cast of hospi­tal pa­tients (or un­der­cover cops, or killers on Shun’s side—you won’t find out un­til the end) whose ail­ments and mis­ad­ven­tures lead to fur­ther prob­lems down the line. Each lit­tle spark sets off another, lead­ing to one large, lit­eral ex­plo­sion, which even­tu­ally trig­gers the cli­max of the movie: that glo­ri­ous one-take slow­mo­tion shootout. With the cam­era snaking around the room, ac­tors ap­par­ently un­der­went weeks of train­ing to be able to con­vinc­ingly ma­neu­ver them­selves around in slow mo­tion, even man­ag­ing slow gun throws and jumps with the help of wires and post-pro­duc­tion trick­ery.

There are mo­ments when the in­ten­sive job done in post be­comes glar­ingly ob­vi­ous and even both­er­some: The hospi­tal foyer has been bla­tantly tacked onto a green screen, and the very ob­vi­ously CG blood dis­tracts from the pump­ing ac­tion se­quences. More cru­cially, through­out the film it feels as if To is try­ing to rush his ideas into ex­is­tence, whether they be tech­ni­cal or plot-driven, which brings out lapses in logic. For in­stance, why does a philo­soph­i­cal thief like Shun ex­ist in the first place?

Nev­er­the­less, with a thought-pro­vok­ing story that crescen­dos from start to fin­ish, and with a pur­pose be­hind ev­ery sin­gle di­ver­sion, this is yet another mas­ter­ful story from a master film­maker.

Eve­lyn Lok

(Hong Kong/China) Ac­tion/Drama. Directed by John­nie To. Star­ring Vicky Zhao Wei, Louis Koo, Wal­lace Chung. Cat­e­gory IIB. 88 min­utes. Opened Jul

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