Michael Bergeron
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Masterpiece of Action Cinema: “Three”

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Johnnie To needs to be on your list of must-see directors. Despite having helmed over fifty movies (and produced countless others) since 1980, To is still not a well know name domestically. That may or may not change with his latest movie Three. One thing is certain – Three is a masterpiece of action cinema.Three2

In one claustrophobic set piece after another, To stages the action in a hospital. (This recalls John Woo’s last act from his explosive 1992 film, Hard Boiled.) The three titular characters are hospital neurologist Dr. Tong Qian (Vicki Zhao), the bad guy known as Dealer (Wallace Chung), who is admitted with a head wound, and the chief inspector Chen (Louis Koo) who senses that Dealer’s gang will try to rescue him and thus prepares an ambush.

Dealer liberally ups the ante by refusing life saving treatment even while quoting Hippocrates, and in a comic manner, reciting Bertrand Russell. While there’s a build up to a dramatic shoot out, the real gore takes place in an operating room when we witness Dr. Tong performing delicate brain surgery.

A plethora of supporting actors play patients and police officers. One crazy patient sneaks out of his bed to steal keys, which plays into a later plot twist. An impressive final act features one of the cleverest uses of slow motion for a massive shoot out, which according to the Variety review of To’s film was accomplished by the actors manually moving slow rather than upping the camera rate frame.johnnie-to-three

There’s a lineage of modern action directors that goes from Sam Peckinpah to John Woo to Tony Scott and up to Johnnie To. Even after the gunplay, there’s still an edge-of-your-seat sequence that involves Chen and Dealer dangling out a window.

The review copy of Three seen for this review was in Cantonese with English and Mandarin subtitles.

“Three” (Saam Yan Hang) opens exclusively at the AMC Studio 30 this weekend.