Having made more than fifty movies in all kinds of genres, Johnny To can do pretty much anything he wants. And with his latest film, Three, what he wants is to experiment with a little muscle-flexing exorcise. At the end of the day, this isn’t going to be anyone’s favorite Johnny To film; it’s far too slight for that. But that doesn’t mean you should ever pass up a chance to see it. To firing on all action cylinders like he does here is not something to take for granted.
Essentially, To’s apparent aim in Three is to take one of those long, highly cinematic show-stopping Brian De Palma sequences (think the museum scene in Dressed to Kill or the Grand Central sequence in Carlito’s Way or a number of others because De Palma is incredible) and blow it up to feature length. The film presents a situation (a wounded criminal, a dirty cop, and a morally troubled doctor are all stuck on a hospital floor together) and spends about an hour winding it, tightening a large number of separate chords so everyone involved is perfectly primed to be in the right place at the right time for maximum chaos once the shit finally hits the fan. That’s really all the movie is, and it's wonderful.
To goes for the ludicrous in this one, utilizing the kind of over the top camera movies and action movie coolness reminiscent of his Exiled. The big finale takes speed ramping to hilarious extremes and builds to a final confrontation that reaches almost Looney Tunes levels. You definitely leave the theater feeling like you just saw something incredible.
But it’s the first hour that really makes or breaks Three. Shot in one location with a script that was apparently improvised daily on set, there are so many ways this film could have failed its many character introductions and mini arcs. The improvised nature of the script makes it even harder to believe how well he pulls this off. In addition to our three leads, there are a handful of other patients being treated, each with their own characteristics and story. Some pay off better than others, but none go to waste when setting up and executing the big, show-stopping third act. It’s a remarkable feat.
Three just seems like a no-brainer. With a premise like this and a filmmaker like To pushing himself to excess, there’s really no downside. It’s fun, it’s cool, it’s very well made, and Lam Suet spends a large chunk of the film with a knife sticking out of his ass. What more could you possibly want?