Several months ago, I was invited to an advanced screening of Three, a hyped Hong Kong thriller directed by the legendary Johnnie To, best known for crime classics such as Election, Exiled and Drug War. The movie features an A-list cast too, led by Zhao Wei, Louis Koo and Wallace Chung, with plenty of other recognisable faces if you are into HK film and television.
I walked out of Three in a complete daze. It was one of the most ridiculous, non-sensical and contrived movies I had seen in a long time. I was seriously asking myself WTF just happened. I knew I wasn’t the only one because my wife thought the same, as well as the several journalists and reviewers I overheard on the way out. One of them even laughed out loud several times during the movie due to unintentional humour.
And yet, Three has gotten rave reviews, with a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (albeit with a relatively small sample size), and even garnered a Golden Horse Award nomination for To for Best Director. I don’t know if I watched a different movie to everyone else, but I’m standing my ground here. Three sucked. I don’t care what anyone else says.
Allow me to back up a bit. The film starts off with an interesting premise centered around three main characters (hence the title?): A mastermind criminal (Wallace Chung) who has been brought into hospital with a bullet lodged in his head, and yet he’s wide awake and functional; an unstable surgeon (Zhao Wei) with serious emotional issues; and a cop in charge of the investigation (Louis Koo) who may or may not have something to hide.
The film tries to build tension and intrigue with that premise, though I found the complete lack of logic so jarring that it took me right out of the atmosphere it was aiming to create. Not much of the human behaviour, actions, reactions or dialogue made any sense, and it’s all made worse by blatant overacting.
It’s as though the film was made by aliens. For instance, why keep a most-wanted fugitive with a bullet in his head in a chaotic shared room with a bunch of other ordinary people? Why are doctors answering police phone calls? Why do family members ask doctors about future treatment for patients who have literally just died right in front of them? Why is a policeman hanging out in the lobby of a hospital out of the firm belief that a song he once heard someone whistling hours ago will be whistled again? Why is the criminal reciting Wikipedia-esque general knowledge in long monologues for no reason? Well, I guess there was a reason — to create fake intrigue. In fact, so much of the film is about creating artificial intrigue and tension through badly written contrivances.
All of it leads up to a climatic shootout that the trailers keep promoting. It’s one of those stylistic, artistic scenes where the camera uses panoramic multi-camera technology to pan around the room in single long take while speeding up and slowing down the action. Yes, it’s nice to look at and well-executed, showing off To’s spectacular knack for visuals, but it makes zero sense from both a strategic and physics standpoint. Like the rest of the movie, it’s all style over substance.
Despite a great cast and a legendary director, Three stunk like sweaty pigs balls on a hot summer’s day. I have no idea how so many Western critics looked straight past all the plot holes, overacting and contrivances to only focus on the visual flair of the director. Perhaps the saw that it was directed by Johnnie To and decided it had to be good. Or maybe navigating through the cultural differences blinded them to how so much of the film made no sense. Either way, it’s one of the most overrated and disappointing films in Asian cinema in 2016.
1.5 stars out of 5