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Louis Koo has some questions for Vicki Zhao in Three.
Chinese: 三人行
Year: 2016  
Director: Johnnie To Kei-Fung
  Producer: Johnnie To Kei-Fung, Yau Nai-Hoi
  Writer: Yau Nai-Hoi, Lau Ho-Leung, Mak Tin-Shu

Yick Tin-Hung, Jack Wong Wai-Leung, Johnnie To Kei-Fung


Vicki Zhao Wei, Louis Koo Tin-Lok, Wallace Chung, Lo Hoi-Pang, Eddie Cheung Siu-Fai, Lam Suet, Mimi Kung Tse-Yan, Timmy Hung Tin-Ming, Michael Tse Tin-Wah, Raymond Wong Ho-Yin, Jonathan Wong, Stephen Au Kam-Tong, Cheung Kwok-Keung, Tam Yuk-Ying, Chu Kin-Kwan

The Skinny: A skillful setup nearly redeems a poor finish. Nearly. Confined crime thriller Three is a clinic in Johnnie To style and storytelling that falls apart when the story paints itself into a corner. While it lasts, the brushwork is pretty good.
by Kozo:

Fourteen years after his doctors-and-nurses comedy HELP!!!, Johnnie To checks back into the hospital with a movie that his most ardent fans – namely the crime genre junkies – will be happier with. Maybe. Three is a confined thriller set in a hospital about three individuals deadlocked in conflict with one another. Bad guy Shun (Wallace Chung) is brought into the hospital with a bullet in his head, but he'd like to postpone surgery while he looks for a way to contact his men to come and break him out. Inspector Ken Chan (Louis Koo) wants to find the bad guys and stick it to Shun, though his zeal for justice comes with a darker motive that’s related to how Shun got shot in the head. Finally, Dr. Tong (Vicki Zhao) just wants to save Shun's life, partly because of her Hippocratic oath but also because she's made some tough calls with other patients – and one (Jonathan Wong) is now semi-paralyzed and makes a habit of verbally abusing Tong from his hospital bed. Besides sucking, the constant reminders have taken a toll on her conscience.

Tong's desire to save Shun makes her a hindrance to Ken and also a potential mark for Shun, and her agenda constantly shifts in response to their tug-of-war. Meanwhile, Shun's bullet-in-head problem adds urgency to the proceedings – though the film's lack of exposition creates tension on its own. Three unfolds with plenty of hidden information and motivations, and Johnnie To reveals his story and characters cinematically using pace, action and mostly indirect dialogue exchanges. As he showed in PTU, The Mission and too many other Milkyway Image films to count, To excels at telling stories without words, and in Three he manages the same feat splendidly. The script does have its wordy passages, but they're used to define characters – particularly Shun, who pretentiously quotes philosophers and policy as a means of showing up the cops. The dialogue, and Wallace Chung's smarmy performance, can grate, but the film nominally succeeds at making Shun into the kind of confident, savvy criminal common to Milkyway Image efforts like Breaking News and Running Out of Time.

Still, the other two leads perform better than Chung. Louis Koo is suitably intense as the morally murky Inspector Ken, while Vicki Zhao ably conveys Dr. Tong’s conflicting agendas. Neither character truly becomes likable, which may be a turnoff to some audiences, but a movie with clear-cut good guys and bad guys wasn’t what Milkyway Image was going for. Still, the film loses a huge opportunity in the interaction between Inspector Ken and Dr. Tong. The struggle between them seems to be about saving a life versus catching criminals – a complex conflict that could easily support a whole film. However, while the script clearly lays out these opposing motivations, it doesn’t do much more with them. The themes never resonate that strongly, and seem lost beneath Johnnie To’s style. To's direction can both harm and hurt his films – his ability to convey character and situation is involving, but the reasons behind everything can get glossed over. Three wrings irony and even poetic justice from its crisscrossing conflicts, such that it feels like the movie is saying something. However, is it really?

Perhaps, but whatever it is may not be earned. Three starts well, but before long its plot holes become untenable. Despite the engrossing build-up, the characters ultimately don't make much sense. Dr. Tong, in particular, behaves mystifyingly. Her flip-flopping has real and negative consequences, and yet she continues making bad decisions in an almost sociopathic manner. Inspector Ken also changes, but his decisions seem unlikely given his established character. If one throws the need for SAPPRFT approval into the mix, then Ken's actions make more sense. That's a meta reason, however, and not something that should be used as an excuse. Like most Milkyway Image productions, the script was likely developed on set, with Johnnie To's uncanny directing abilities relied upon to smooth over any cracks. This filmmaking method has been pretty successful in the past, though this time To doesn't have a screenwriter like Wai Ka-Fai helping him. Wai is a brilliant writer in that he can use karma, fate and other metaphysical concepts to support his unlikely narratives, and Three could have used some of his magic touch.

Three's major selling point – outside of the Johnnie To name, naturally – is its single take climactic shootout. Using slow motion, steadicam and a whole lot of post-production trickery, To mounts an ambitious gunfight in which the camera moves in, around and through the hospital ward seamlessly while various parties fire hot lead at one another. It's bravura filmmaking that's laudable in planning if not execution. Unfortunately, the CGI is bad, the powdered squibs are unconvincing, and the mixture of camera speeds (sometimes the camera speeds up, sometimes it slows down, and sometimes the actors act like they're in slow motion) is more jarring than enthralling. Also, the gunfight is poorly justified. Shun is supposed to be a super-smart bad guy, and he shows his intelligence in his wily manipulation of others. However, was his plan to have his gang show up and start a firefight in the ward? Because Shun has no escape plan in place – hell, he doesn't even account for the bullet in his head that's slowly killing him. For a devious criminal mastermind, Shun is kind of an idiot.

In Three's defense, it can be a fun and interesting ride if viewed as a study in Johnnie To’s filmmaking style. The way To can tell a story through expression and movement, and with incidental or even no dialogue, is a real skill that's a pleasure to observe. The problem is Three takes potent themes and technique and acts as if it’s working towards a goal, only to throw up its hands at the eleventh hour and seemingly give up on finishing the job. One character makes a strange decision that results in an unearned fate, another is doomed by what was probably script-mandated stupidity and another is basically redeemed by an act of God – except they don’t really learn anything, which feels both unsatisfying and incomplete. As a filmmaking exercise, Three deserves credit for its craftsmanship; if someone turned this in as their senior film school project, they should absolutely ace the course. They just shouldn’t win any Hong Kong Film Awards.(Kozo, 10/2016)



DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
2-Disc Special Edition
Panorama (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital EX
Removable English and Chinese subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen