VOD film review: Three (2016)
James R | On 14, May 2020
Director: Johnnie To
Cast: Zhao Wei, Louis Koo, Wallace Chung
Watch Three online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
When it comes to stories set in one place, cinema tends to use that restricted setting to fuel claustrophobic horror and fear. But equally effective, if underused, is the potential for single locations to drive thrilling action and innovative set pieces – and there’s no better example than Johnnie To’s Three.
Set almost entirely within a hospital, the 2016 thriller introduces us to a busy Hong Kong ward, where thief Shun (Wallace Chung) has been shot in the head and whisked in for rapid surgery. Given six hours to live, though, he chooses to refuse the operation and annoy the detective (Louis Koo) who brought him in instead. A surreptitious phone call to his accomplices later and he’s biding his time for them to break in break him out.
But first, we meet the third player in this cat-and-mouse triangle: Dong (Vicki Zhao), a determined doctor who is a little too ruthless in her ambition to get ahead in a male-dominated profession. It’s a rare (and welcome) instance of a female character given a main role in a Johnnie To film, but the rest of the movie is precisely the kind of thing you’d expect from the Hong Kong action maestro – a dogged, intense policeman, a wise-cracking gangster and no end of quick-fire exchanges between the two. Dong’s urge to save the man’s life, meanwhile, muddies the water considerably, and what begins as a simple set-up twists and turns in its winding game of shifting power dynamics.
But, let’s be honest, characters and plot aren’t the reason to tune in to a To joint, and Three’s depth beyond surface trickery isn’t anything to write home about – the script by Yau Nai-hoi, Lau Ho-leung and Mak Tin-shu is having too much fun stuffing the screen with colourful side characters to flesh out the main cast in any great detail.
And yet what surface this is. To crafts a slick and fast-paced thriller that builds suspense and teases conflict to come – all linked together by a nifty use of a looping classical music riff to pass a cryptic message through the building. By the time the finale arrives, it’s well worth the wait: To lets rip with a shootout that’s effectively all shot in one long take, whizzing between characters and chaos with computer-accelerated energy. It’s a bravura moment that’s so absurd it even manages to get away with some low-budget CGI, as the whole ward enters a heightened state of ridiculousness. Is it vintage Johnnie To? No, but it’s the best episode of Casualty you’ve ever seen and, for anyone who’s seen The Raid several times, its just what the doctor ordered. By the time the bullets stop flying (in wonderfully over-the-top slow-motion), the result will leave any action fan with a smile on their face – a rare chance to enjoy a film set in one location without hiding behind the sofa.
Three is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.