Monday, April 01, 2019

Triple Threat

Getting a movie like Triple Threat into theaters for even one night is probably a victory for Well Go, because it's D2V as all get-out, although that's not necessarily the pure insult it used to be: Although I haven't dipped my toes in it much beyond what makes it to Fantasia, there's a growing appreciation for what the folks in this market are doing, shooting in Thailand or Eastern Europe, with a set of actors who are specializing in playing a certain type of tough guy and selling the heck out of their fight scenes (and directors who understand that their job is to make those sequences sing) rather than slumming it as a gig that pays the rent while their agent finds them work worthy of their talents. Stuff like this may not be great, transcendent art, but it's a bit better than B-movie "product" or "content" or dues-paying stepping stones.

On the other hand, you can't help but notice the disparity with stuff that's made for the big-screen experience when the distributor goes and attaches a trailer for Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy to the movie. The opening images of the preview are striking in a way that the aggressively generic environs of Triple Threat are not, and then the trailer gets slick and playful as Michelle Yeoh walks into a restaurant where Max Zhang's title character is working as a waiter and they play a bit, passing a drink back and forth across a table, redirecting it in small ways so it doesn't drop, spill, or stop moving. That's a movie that has a bit of room to be more than solid and satisfying. Sure, I was already inclined to like Master Z after Ip Man 3 and dropping Michelle Yeoh into a martial-arts movie these days is pretty much bringing in a ringer, but there's not really an equivalent moment in Triple Threat, either in terms of being truly creative with the stars' action chops or just having the characters grab you in a more-than-functional way. It kind of tries with Iko's Jaka burying his wife or Tony Jaa hamming it up while cooking a meal, but the spark isn't quite there.

Well, maybe it is in the scene where White's character is saying "bullshit, bullshit, oh, Donnie and Sammo" when browsing a street vendor's bootleg movies. That's kind of both a well-delivered line that shows some personality and kind of a statement of what's important here: It's looking to be the sort of action movie that White wouldn't call bullshit, and any other priority is a distant second. It maybe doesn't make it as a whole, but I can't say I regret watching the main six throw down at the end.

Triple Threat

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 March 2019 in AMC Boston Common #17 (special presentation, DCP)

A direct-to-video all-star cast doesn't sound like a huge reason to go see a movie, but there's two kinds of direct-to-video people who: Actors who have lost their box-office draw but keep working in whatever job they can get (your Eric Roberts or Bruce Willis types), and action professionals like the stars of this movie. These guys can fight on screen and are hopefully just good enough where the scenes in between are not entirely laughable, or at least the producers can afford enough action to minimize that. Triple Threat has the action, and thankfully it's good and frequent enough to do the job.

It takes place in a fictional Southeast Asian country where the news is in English but the locals speak Thai, and a crime-ridden one at that, although Chinese heiress Xiao Xian (Celina Jade) has a plan to change that through investment and philanthropy. The mob in the form of of Siu Feng (Monica Mok Siu-kei) has a plan, starting with sending a team of mercenaries - including Devereaux (Michael Jai White), Joey (Michael Bisping), Mook (JeeJa Yanin), Payu (Tony Jaa), and Long Fei (Tiger Chen Hu) - to bust terrorist Collins (Scott Adkins) out of an MI6 black site, so he can lead a team to take Xian out. Seems like overkill, except that Payu and Jaka thought they were on a humanitarian mission, and at least one staffer, Jaka (Iko Uwais), has survived, and all three will have their paths cross with Xiao as she is under attack.

For a movie that is mostly a chase which stays close enough that people can regularly fight, this is needlessly complicated in some ways, and often just plain silly - is breaking Collins out really necessary, given that he doesn't exactly come off as some sort of superlative mastermind rather than just another merc? Leave him until later and you've got Devereaux as team leader and haven't preemptively made enemies of Payu, Jaka, and Long Fei. Sure, you can't know that in advance, and a martial-arts movie has got to set itself up with reasons for people to switch sides and fight each other, but there's a point where even the folks with no illusions about the action serving the story rather than vice versa might raise an eyebrow about how it doesn't quite fit, even before one starts to note that this place looks pretty nice for a supposedly poor, crime-infested hellhole, although people seem to take folks running through the streets firing automatic weapons in stride.

Full review on EFilmCritic

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