When a bust goes bad, the last thing you want to do is let the criminal get all the leverage. Director Johnnie To bursts back on to the screens with his gripping crime thriller Three and shows us how less can quite often be more as it is a film that allows for a certain economy of action and allows the tension to grow thanks to some solid performances.
Master criminal (Wallace Chung) is surrounded by the cops with nowhere to go, so he makes a desperate choice: he forces the cops to shoot him, so he will be taken to the hospital. Once there, he refuses treatment, instead waiting for his cohorts to break him out. Caught between an obsessed cop (Louis Koo) and the troubled surgeon assigned to save his life (Zhao Wei), the hospital is now a taught-and-tense situation that could turn into a bloody battleground at any moment.
While having a director who ends up producing a movie almost as often as the seasons change isn’t always a good thing, Johnnie To gets it right here as Three allows for the drama to evolve in a more natural and effective way rather than leaning on the spectacular action set pieces that fans have come accustom to…while still having a pretty good one of those to make the die-hard fans happy.
Setting the action almost entirely in one place, To allows for this all to be purely a battle of wits and he shows that he can execute that just nearly as well as he can a torrid gun battle or crazy car chase. Clocking in at a lean and mean 87 minutes, the film is edited and structured with a great care for pace and timing. It’s not a speed demon of a race, but it never ever wants us to get bored with anything either. Imagine if John Woo’s Hard Boiled was more of a psychological drama instead of non-stop action spectacle and then you would have Three.
Louis Koo is an action veteran and handles the role of his obsessed veteran cop with ease, if China has an equivalent of Harrison Ford, without a doubt it’s Louis. He plays off of Zhao Wei as the troubled surgeon and Wallace Chung as the devious and more than a little bent criminal incredibly well. All three manage to make this an effective game of cat and mouse while basically locked in the same room together.
I’ll grant anyone that Johnnie To has come through with more meaningful and emotionally poignant crime epics then he does here with Three, rarely does he make anything this flat out entertaining. It’s easily one of the better action pictures of the year that only asks you to strap in and enjoy the ride.