After being admitted to a hospital due to a gun shot wound to the head, criminal and would-be thief, Shun, rejects treatment in order to buy himself some time so his gang to find and free him. Chief Inspector Ken, aware of Shun’s plans, does everything in his power to get a conviction and to get Shun to accept treatment in order for him to be released into police custody.
I’ll admit, I’m not much of an action fan. Never have been, really. I’ll also admit that I think the best thing to happen to the action genre is Hong Kong. If you look at American action movies over the past couple decades, you can see the influence Hong Kong filmmakers have had on the industry and genre. One of those influential forces is a man named Johnnie To — a man who’s been making action films since the ‘80s and is praised by the likes of Tarantino (if that means anything to you). Sadly, I also have to admit that, until recently, I have not seen a single movie out of his extensive filmography. Yet the trailer for his latest film, “Three”, had caught my attention and created an interest and excitement in seeing the movie.
While I’m no expert on Johnnie To, there was still a familiarity to “Three”. When your primary plot is about a cop and a thug squaring off, you’re going to get one of two scenarios: a slow boil cat-and-mouse game, or a non-stop shoot ‘em up where people fire two guns whilst jumping through the air (while probably going, “Aaaah!”). And that’s not to criticize since all genres have their formulas but, thankfully, for me, “Three” was in the former category. While Hong Kong filmmakers have mastered the art of the action film, the cat-and-mouse scenario is more interesting to me as an audience member.
And “Three” is relatively successful at what it was trying to accomplish because it let the driving force be the characters Chief Inspector Ken (Louis Koo) and master-criminal Shun (Wallace Chung) playing off one another. These two have fantastic chemistry together and the sold the film’s tone and premise exceedingly well. The downside to “Three” is that a majority of the different elements and parts to the movie have their good and bad moments, resulting in a relatively average movie.
The writing, for example, is well done for the most part. Having these two character make certain moves and decisions based on their predictions of how the other is going to play their part is well done. There’s tension in waiting to see how things will play out. And most things are successful in having a cause-and-effect sequence — actions can be connected to decisions made by the characters. There’s also an unfortunate use of coincidence. To be fair, most movies use coincidences because sometimes that’s the way it has to be in order for a story or movie to work. It’s not strictly a fault with “Three” because the movie doesn’t rely on coincidences. It uses them, but doesn’t rely on them. Such as an inspector chasing a suspect around the hospital because he heard him whistling the same song that Shun whistles. Logically, the scene doesn’t work, but it is useful in creating tension during a time when the movie is slowing down and it's a sequences that also helps in setting up part of the ending.
To go back to the writing, there is a hospital drama subplot because there needs to be something that exists in between the scenes of Ken and Shun. Also because it allows there to be a character who has no stakes in the cops-n-robbers story — it’s a neutral character for the story that allows the audience to have someone to connect to (the everyman character). Granted it seems odd that a neurologist is our everyman character, but Zhao Wei does a great job as Dr. Tong and makes the setup work. Again though, there is a downside to this. While the main storyline is great at building tension, the hospital drama has tendency to bog down the story in unnecessary characters, also slowing down the pace, and alleviate the tension too much.
The minor characters in particular are damning because, while they have no great affect on the main storyline, they become intrusive because of their setup and use throughout the movie. Because there’s so much focus on them, the movie has a tendency to stop in order to resolve individual character stories. In particular, when the explosive climax of the movie is set off, the movie gives a resolution to a patient who’s suffering from paralysis. Not only does the character not have any direct involvement to the main story, but his resolution could have come before or after the ending. Instead the movie is content to throw it in the middle of a big shoot out between police and criminals, and it damages the pace and tone of the film’s conclusion.
There are a few other quibbles with the movie, such as having scenes simply end rather than having an actual conclusion to the scene because they wrote themselves into a corner and didn’t know how to get out. However, there’s still nothing in “Three” that’s a big enough detriment that it would make me call it a bad movie. There are enough high and low points to average the film out to a decent-but-enjoyable viewing experience. The strongest aspect of “Three” are the characters and the performances by Wallace Chung, Louis Koo, and Zhao Wei. The overall movie though, it’s done well enough that I’d believe Johnnie To fans will be satisfying, as well as any viewer who wants a slow-burn crime flick.