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Three - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Saam Jan Hang

Hong Kong 2016

Crime, Thriller

Johnnie To

Louis Koo
Vickie Zhao Wei
Wallace Chung
Lam Suet
Lo Hoi-Pang
Michael Tse

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Three - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Dr. Tong Qian (Vicki Zhao) is a brain surgeon and didn't have any luck with her recent complex surgeries. Accordingly, she even gets constantly insulted by a patient, who is now paralyzed. However, Tong isn't aware of having made any mistakes. Yet, pressure to finally prove that she can do a successful surgery is weighing heavy on her. That's just when criminal Shun (Wallace Chung) is brought to the hospital, accompanied by many police officers, led by Detective Chen (Louis Koo). Shun has a headshot injury, but miraculously is still conscious. Despite the necessity of surgery he refuses to undergo one. He rather wants to engage in a battle of wits with Detective Chen, who himself is eager to make the evidence speak against Shun, since apparently the arrest didn't go by the book. Furthermore, Chen needs to find out where Shun's accomplices hide since they again robbed a bank in a particularly ruthless manner. Because of a mistake by Dr. Tong Shun manages to inform his accomplices about his whereabouts. Shun's friends aren't just planning to get the criminal free, but also aim at killing Chen.

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Review: Johnnie To never ceases to impress. In "Three" everything revolves around hubris, control and the mistakes we aren't willing to admit. Once again To pits gangsters against police. But this time he assembles them in a single place: a hospital. The director has already gained experience with this kind of artificial stage in "Office". But in contrast to this departure of his gangster stories he returns to his roots with "Three". He does so by creating an incredible amount of suspense which has its origin in his dead-on directing. Almost every picture is well-thought-out and the camera moving through the hospital creates a momentum that you sometimes even miss in an action movie. Johnnie To is a master of composition and knows how to constantly build-up suspense until things explode in an impressive showdown. It's not any different here.

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A hospital is the perfect place to bring together varying kinds of characters. Contrary to different works of the director suspense doesn't just hover in the air silently between the antagonists, but is accompanied by the background noise of the other patients and their at times absurd dialogues. On the one hand this puts the focus even more on what's actually important, on the other hand it also adds a nice comedy touch to the film. This is also the case with situations like those involving Lam Suet playing a police detective who is hobbling over the screen with a knife in his butt. Moreover, chance happenings and karma are playing a prominent part in the story again, too. For instance, there is the mentally unstable bed neighbor of the criminal who happens to aid the villain in putting his plan into action.

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Storywise the thriller is very clever. Every small gear meshes with the other and this in an at times quite original manner. The characters are interesting as well, even though it can be criticized that they lack some real background story. Zhao Wei ("Dearest", "Painted Skin: The Resurrection") plays a doctor whose hubris is about to crumble, especially when she unintentionally helps a gangster. Like Louis Koo ("The White Storm", "Accident") she delivers a very intense performance. All characters act with a strong purpose and thus bestow a lot of momentum on the film. The villain, played by Wallace Chung, can showcase his outstanding brains and doesn't really care that he possible doesn't have long to live anymore, if he shouldn't undergo surgery. For him it's all about the battle of wits which he needs to win.

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At the bottom line, everything in "Three" centers around hubris, the illusion that everything is perfectly under your control. There are too many variables in life to really be able to plan everything. Accordingly, it's fascinating to see how the different characters deal with the fact that things slowly but surely slip out of their control. Yet, the one who is always retaining control is director Johnnie To. Despite the fact that the individuals scurrying through the hospital corridors might seem chaotic later on, the audience is always able to keep track of who is where and for what reason. Because To steers his movie to a wonderful finale with utmost precision. The showdown consists of a fantastic shootout through which the camera moves while things are happening in slow-motion, whereas To even makes his actors perform in slow-motion. This may not always look perfect, but it makes the scene even more intense since To manages to deliver something unique and fascinating with this creation of an artificial world.

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The many widescreen shots, the as usual polished pictures and the tense atmosphere show that Johnnie To is a master of his craft. And "Three" would stand as another one of his masterpieces if there weren't some stumbling blocks on the road. With its running time of merely 87 minutes the movie is quite short and this seems unnecessary since a few more minutes towards the end wouldn't have hurt the film. Everything seems a bit rushed. Moreover, the change of heart of one of the protagonists seems rather odd and a few special effects can't be really convincing either. A more profound look into the psyche of the characters wouldn't have been bad either. Unfortunately, all of this has a negative impact on the overall score. However, it doesn't change the fact that Johnnie To once again brings to screen a thriller which tense atmosphere and witty story developments will make you glued to your tv.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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