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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Triangle 铁三角 by Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam and Johnnie To

Triangle poster

TRIANGLE is a wet dream come true for HK film purists. Three iconic Hong Kong directors, Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam and Johnnie To, working together on a film. They have known each other since their TVB days 30 years ago, and the idea of a story being handed to a director to develop and film separately came from Tsui Hark.

So, unlike most multi-director film collaborations, this is NOT an anthology united by a theme or a location (like PARIS JE'TAIME or TICKETS), but one story told in three 30-minute segments done independently by three directors (with different sets of writers) whose styles are distinctively different from one another. For most, this film will feel like a seamless whole (that is a blend of numerous genres), for a hardcore HK fan, you will probably notice which segment is by which director ("that's Tsui Hark flamboyance!" or "that's a Johnnie To gunfight scene!" or "that's Ringo Lam angst!")

In Tsui Hark rapid-fire fashion, film begins with three down on their luck friends, antiques seller Mok (Sun Long Hei), taxi driver Fai (Louis Koo) and tightly-wound realtor Sam (Simon Yan) meeting a mysterious stranger one night at their local bar, the man gives them a gold coin and a website that, once deciphered, will lead them to a lucrative heist job: Retrieving a box hidden under the Hong Kong Legislative Council building ('s female toilet) that will make them rich beyond their imagination!

Other than that, there are also numerous subplots being setup, like Sam's wife Ling (Kelly Lin) having an affair with rogue cop Wen (Gordon Lam Ka-Tung, really good here), or Fai's debt to local dangerous mobsters, and the suspicion that Sam's character may be pretty unhinged and responsibile for the death of his previous wife.

It's both a strenght and weakness of most Tsui Hark films, the guy, mostly referred to as Hong Kong's Steven Spielberg, is full of ideas, and he likes throwing them all into the pot at once, if they work, they work well, and he end up making films that seem bigger than they really are (SWORDMAN films, the Wong Fei Hung 'ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA' series etc), but in recent years, where his output had been inconsistent, he usually ends up not being able to develop them, his last film, the disappointing SEVEN SWORDS is an example of wasted opportunities. But since this is an introduction to the film, it's really interesting.

So it's a challenge for the other directors to deal with these subplots, and Ringo Lam, who does the second segment, slows down the film and focuses more on the character work, letting us know more about each of the three protagonists and their relationship with one another. He also simplifies some of the subplots by Tsui Hark, turning it into a taut thriller, and for me, the best segment of the film.

Which is awesome, considering that the most recent film by this famed director of classics like PRISON ON FIRE, CITY ON FIRE (that's the film RESERVOIR DOGS was based on) is the unwatchable, excruciatingly bad (yet... strangely interesting) 2003's LOOKING FOR MR. PERFECT (yes, I had the misfortune of seeing this in the cinemas). This segment reminds me more of the 'good' Ringo Lam, as it is similar to hisgreat late 90s film like THE VICTIM and FULL ALERT.

Johnnie To's segment is more like a black comedy, but like most of his films, superbly choreographed. Although I personally felt that the conclusion's rather anticlimatic, with the protagonists becoming bystanders as the events unfold by themselves. Of course, while I was disappointed, the signature 'Johnnie To' gunfightin sequences towards the end still make me smile in joy (it's not in the level of EXILED, PTU or THE MISSION, but I'm still AWED!)

It's hard for me to recommend this film for a regular person who is expecting this to be a conventional film as the sudden shift of tone and mood, along with some plot (and character) inconsistencies will throw most people off, and seeing how some of the subplots are maddeningly dealt with might not sit well with most, I think.

Ultimately, this film is a jam session between three filmmaking masters of Hong Kong cinema, watching the improvisation is part of the fun. Take Simon Yam's character for example, Sam, who is introduced as a nervous, twitchy and possibly psychotic character in Tsui Hark's segment, it's rather unnerving, yet FUN, to see him suddenly turn into a badass action hero in Ringo Lam's segment (watch out for the car scene with him and Gordon Lam). Sam's wife, Ling, underwent lots of transformation in the 3 different segments too, but I won't reveal the spoilers here.

So, yeah, I think this is an entertaining film, and man, I would love to get myself involved in a project like this! Definitely better than BROTHERS, the other Hong Kong film showing in the cinemas right now starring Andy Lau, Miu Kiu Wai etc. (review for that coming up next)

Interview with the three main actors of TRIANGLE

Interview with the three directors of Triangle