To’s odd anti-action structural experiment takes too long to build up a self-contained story set in a hospital ward as doctors, cops and criminals try to outwit one another psychologically, that when the action comes, it feels like a stylistic distraction.
Dir. Johnnie To
2016 | Hong Kong | Crime/Drama/Thriller | 88 mins | 2.35:1 | Cantonese, Mandarin & English
NC16 (passed clean) for disturbing scenes and some violence
Cast: Zhao Wei, Louis Koo, Wallace Chung, Kathy Wu, Suet Lam
Plot: Realizing that he will be defeated in no time during a police showdown, a thug shoots himself to force the cops to cease fire and take him to the hospital. In the hospital, he claims human rights to refuse immediate treatment in order to bide time for his underlings to rescue him.
Awards: Nom. for 2 Golden Horses – Best Director & Best Original Score
Distributor: Media Asia
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Not sure what Johnnie To is trying to do here, but Three has great moments of simmering suspense, yet it is so oddly structured that the only rational explanation is that the master Hong Kong director is just ‘playing around’.
He has done all he could for crime-thrillers over the decades, occasionally reinventing himself, so if one were to see Three as an experiment in pushing narrative form, then at least it is a decent try.
However, I’m not entirely convinced but it’s worth seeing the mechanics at work in what I would describe as an anti-action exercise. For nearly 90% of the film, Three works within its self-imposed limitations, as To crafts a slow-burner in a hospital ward.
“We are professionals, but not everything is within our control.”
It would be too complicated to talk about the characters, so I would just say that it involves doctors, cops and criminals. They dislike one another but discharge their duties they must, even if it means breaking ethical codes of conduct.
In a way, the psychological scheming amongst these ‘professionals’ as they try to outwit one another is the film’s raison d’être considering the largely restricted location, but it takes too long to build up to an action crescendo.
But that does eventually come and perhaps concludes too soon, almost akin to a stylistic distraction as To attempts an aesthetical and tonal counterpoint to what has transpired before. I shan’t say much, except that the action feels like The Matrix meets John Woo. And it’s not necessarily for the better.