Review: Triple Threat (2019)

I’ve been waiting to see Triple Threat for over two years. Seemingly caught up with distribution difficulties and generating little buzz, it nevertheless carries the potential to be an all-time action classic. Check that cast list. It’s absolutely stacked with talented action practitioners. Real ones, who know how to make fights look good. Even if not all the names are widely known, the sheer amount of experience there is mouth-watering for a dedicated action fan. Game on!

It’s always exciting when the east and the west meet up to throw down. See for instance Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris in Way of the Dragon or Jackie Chan and Benny Urquidez in Wheels on Meals. This film is a thoroughly global production though. An international ensemble cast, set in a fictional Thai location, with an English director and significant Chinese funding. It’s something of a feat production-wise, although reviewing filmographies of the main players reveals a lot of crossover work in the past, which probably helped. On screen, things get a little confusing at times regarding who speaks what language and it isn’t helped by some of the dialogue being difficult to decipher. The first action scene is set at an MI6 black site, overseen by an Australian, and some of the extras say they work for the Americans in the subtitles — even though the dialogue clearly says “MI6”. Finer plot details aside though, ten minutes in we’re one action scene down and all the main characters are in play, which leaves plenty of time to get down to business.

Someone forgot the spoonful of sugar.

Heiress to a fortune Tian Xiao Xian (Celina Jade), has arrived in Maha Jaya to pledge funds to kick crime to the curb. This makes her a target of guns for hire Collins (Scott Adkins), Devereaux (Michael Jai White), Joey (Michael Bisping), Mook (“Jeeja” Yanin Vismitananda) and more. War breaks out in the streets and Xiao Xian winds up running for her life and under the protection of guns for hire Payu (Tony Jaa) and Long-Fei (Tiger Chen). Gun for hire Jaka (Iko Uwais) is also on the prowl for vengeance against those who killed his wife back in the early jungle assault. So lots of guns for hire, and lots of guns, period. It’s pretty much a bunch of mercenaries doing their jobs, just some have more scruples than others. Long-Fei and Payu stress to Xiao Xian that those gunning for her are “really bad guys” which is pretty obvious to us. They’re kind of racist, swear up a storm and kill stacks of innocent people. Hard men and a hard woman, trying to get the highest score on Mohs scale of hardness. Collins shows a single skerrick of mercy by not shooting an unarmed young lady on desk duty at a police station.

It all sounds quite grim, but the film threads humourous breaks through the bullets. There’s a knowing sense of the ridiculous, particularly highlighted in the straight-faced discussions among the really bad guys as they rampage around the streets with impunity. Almost everyone gets one-liners laced with cheese, but the best deliveries come from Michael Jai White and Tony Jaa, who especially looks like he’s having a great time. Perhaps being relieved of carrying a movie as the star has let him relax more as he’s been great in recent appearances. The rapport between him, Tiger Chen and Celina Jade is really the core of the film. Iko Uwais plays more of a lone wolf on his revenge mission and it’s a bit hard to connect with, since his wife was only alive for about ten seconds of screen time.

Drinks break!

Tone and characterisation aside, this is an action extravaganza first and foremost, and a worthy one. Trouble is, with the level of talent involved it almost can’t help but be a bit of a let down. So many screen action dynamos are on hand, the fireworks end up diffused across a larger area and thus not as explosive. Many fights feel short, never really reaching the heights they could. There’s also a lot of guns. It would be contrived if they weren’t used, but every big battle needs to have them sidelined to get to melee range. A real frustration in this regard is Jeeja Yanin. She hardly gets to fight at all, mainly using a grenade launcher to get the job done. At least she’s fun in her small role and with her dark eyeliner and dark demeanour, kind of terrifying too.

When it’s time to go hand-to-hand though, what’s here is good quality and clearly shot, even when set in an abandoned mansion at night. It’s a bonus having all the actors’ different styles on display which mixes up the fights a lot. Not quite everyone gets to fight everyone, but there’s no shortage of squaring up to opponents. Iko Uwais and Tiger Chen get a rematch that’s not long, but still more satisfying than their truncated bout in Man of Tai Chi. Michael Jai White is one of the fastest moving big dudes this side of Sammo Hung and it’s a worry whether Iko Uwais can take him given the beef they have stewing throughout the film. Scott Adkins as Collins feels the most threatening of the bunch, even full on attacking a moving car at one point. The crispest fighting occurs at the very end between him and Tony Jaa. Again, it’s short. It would have been awesome to see them really let fly.

Collins (Scott Adkins) takes a lot of beating.

While familiarity with those involved could put expectations into overload and lead to disappointment, Triple Threat is definitely not a film to skip over. That would be like passing up a pizza because it doesn’t have cheesy crust — it would just be a better version of what is in front of you right now. So grab a slice and watch an all-star action cast whale on each other for an hour and a half.

7.5 beers with a few mates out of 10.
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