Mark Reviews Movies

Three (2016)

THREE (2016)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Johnnie To

Cast: Vicki Zhao, Louis Koo, Wallace Chung, Lo Hoi-pang, Cheung Siu-fao, Lam Suet, Mimi Kung, Timmy Hung, Michael Tse, Raymond Wong

MPAA Rating: Not rated

Running Time: 1:27

Release Date: 6/24/16 (limited)


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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 24, 2016

It would be folly to overthink—or, for that matter, only slightly think about—the plan of the villain in Three. The film proposes that a major criminal comes up with an elaborate scheme with his compatriots in order to free him from a hospital. In order for this to happen, the antagonist would need to know that he would end up in the hospital, but that only happens because he survives a gunshot to the head during a siege on a drug warehouse. One of the central questions of the story is whether the gunshot wound was the result of legitimate or bad policing. Either answer, of course, doesn't help to resolve the confusion.

The plan is too specific to the location for it to be improvised, which means the entire scheme had to be planned out in the middle of the police raid and before he was shot. The villain also knows too much about the plan for it to be figured out without his knowledge, which means he would have been a part of the planning phase, but see, this is overthinking the whole thing.

In other words, there's a good reason that Lau Ho-leung, Mark Tin Shu, and Yau Nai-hoi's screenplay begins and stays at the hospital. There's no way to square the circle of the film's back story, so the screenwriters simply skip it, offering only the bare minimum of information and leaving the rest of it a mystery. It's the right choice, not only because it's impossible to make any sense of the plan but also because that uncertainty serves as the foundation of the film's tension.

It's a game, and only the conditions for victory matter: Either Shun (Wallace Chung), the criminal, escapes the hospital, or Chen (Louis Koo), the police inspector in charge of Shun's detention, prevents that from happening. The only hard and fast rule is the one set up by the screenplay: The story is going to take place entirely inside the hospital. Watching the strategies of both sides unfold is the fun part.

There's a third, uninvolved party in the mix. She's Dr. Tong (Vicki Zhao), a hardworking surgeon who has had a bad run as of late. One of her patients was left paralyzed after undergoing surgery to remove a tumor on his spine. Another patient of hers is left in a vegetative state after the surgery on the man's brain aneurysm goes wrong.

The chief of surgery (Cheung Siu-fai) believes Tong needs to take some time away from work. She, though, is determined to ensure that Shun, who refuses to allow the doctors to remove the bullet from his brain (It's difficult to oversee and help facilitate a convoluted plan while under anesthesia), does not join the ranks of patients whom she believes she has failed. Meanwhile, Chen wants to the doctor's help, since Shun's accomplices are still on the loose, robbing local businesses, and surely on their way to rescue Shun. For his part, Shun argues that the police shot him without cause and are now denying him his legal rights in order to cover up their wrong-doing.

Tong's moral crisis certainly helps to even out the game's two, central participants, who are either overtly or potentially immoral. It's an almost impossible choice on her part—to uphold her ethical duties to help a man whom she knows is wrong or to dismiss them for a man who is likely abusing his own power and responsibility. The doctor may be a pawn for these two adversaries, both of whom are more than willing to manipulate and even abuse her (Chen slaps her repeatedly after she attempts to report the police for the actions), but ultimately, whatever decision she makes is her own (After receiving the blows, she later returns a slap to Chen in front of the entire ward when he challenges her).

The pieces of the plot move quickly, leaving us no time to think of the logical inconsistencies behind them. Shun figures out a way to contact his partners in crime in order to taunt Chen. Chen and his fellow officers start going undercover to blend in with hospital staff and patients. Shun inadvertently—or maybe purposefully—drops clues about how he intends to proceed (A Mozart tune sends one of Chen's men wandering around the hospital, looking for a man in a suit who reacts to the music), and he seems almost clairvoyant about Chen's tactics.

Director Johnnie To's assembles all of these plot elements with a clockwork-like precision. Even when the screenplay intentionally or unintentionally leaves us confused about a specific move or strategy, there's always a sense of some overall concept to the participants' approach—or at least an appreciation of how well To keeps track of the players as they move through the relatively confined space of the hospital.

In the end, the grand design of Shun's scheme almost doesn't matter, because the climax is a chaotic outburst of violence that renders moot any kind of accurate maneuvering. Even then, the shootout that concludes the game is a daring, technically impressive sequence, which moves freely around the space, darts to and fro between the combatants, and plays with speed—all the while giving the sensation of an extended one-take (It's a shame the last bit of the showdown suffers from some cheap-looking green screen work). The finale may not satisfy the multitude of questions that the plotting of Three raises, but it does serve as final showcase of To's control over this material.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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