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September 28, 2009

Triangle

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Tie Saam Gok
Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam and Johnny To - 2007
Magnolia Entertainment Region 1 DVD

I'm not sure of the English language title is the best choice for this film, but it does have double meaning being about three losers who plan a heist, and the three directors who made this film. Basically, three men who vaguely know each other discuss robbing a jewelry store in a small, downstairs bar. A man stumbles in, apparently drunk. Overhearing the men, he gives them his card which turns out to be a clue to a cache more valuable than they imagine. The stranger turns out to be a well known businessman who is reported dead according to television reports that next morning. The trio succeeds in digging the treasure, and of course this is when their trouble really begins.

While the three segments of Triangle segue into each other without interruption, the differing directorial styles are identifiable. The first part, by Tsui Hark, is something of a return to form after the more extravagant Seven Swords. A wonderful moment is when the thieves are moving the crate with the treasure on a portable table through the streets of Hong Kong. Turning their back to observe the police cars that they think are after them, the table starts rolling on its own down the street. The scene of the men chasing after the table is the stuff of silent classic comedy, but it's funny nonetheless. There is something about the way Tsui films the streets of Hong Kong, including areas recognizable from Johnny To's Sparrow, where he is much more in his element after the special effect laden efforts. That Sparrow might be recalled is also due to the casting of Simon Yam. Just wearing glasses is enough to make Yam almost unrecognizable as the seemingly weak husband of Kelly Lin. The relationship of Yam, Lin and her lover lover, played by George Lam, echoes the theme of the triangle. The three parts are notable for how some of the relationships shift in each segment.

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The second part, directed by Ringo Lam, is the most different stylistically from To or Tsui, in that much of his segment is made of stationary shots. The emphasis is on Yam's discovery of his wife's infidelity, and that fellow thief, Louis Koo, might have acted as an informer. A fair amount of this segment also involves cell phone photography, with pictures of callers popping up, as well as the saved image of Yam's deceased first wife. There is a moment when Yam uses his phone to film Kelly Lin dancing by herself. Ringo Lam is hardly the first director one thinks of for romantic moments, but there is a moment of poignancy in between the shootings, stabbings and other forms of bodily harm.

Johnny To's segment is thematically familiar to Exiled, where the thieves have to decide if the monetary value of their treasure is as important as simply staying alive. To regular Lam Suet appears as an oddball character who seems to have made a career for himself, setting up exposed nails in boards to flatten the tires of drivers, and then selling tires at inflated prices. The main characters all gather for a final shootout that takes place in a dark field at night. What makes this segment interesting is that towards the end of the shootout, the film is virtually dialogue free.

The filmmakers used their own screenwriters for each segment, filming after viewing what had been done previously. Tsui did the first segment being the one to originate the story as well as inviting To and Lam to collaborate. Is anyone aware of any other film produced in this manner? There have been plenty of films with multiple directors making short films united by a common theme or genre. Triangle has somewhat more in common with the mini-series that has more than one director but usually those are unified by the same screenplay writer. In the long view, Triangle should probably be considered not much more than an intriguing footnote in the careers of its three directors. The place the film had a Cannes was rightly "a certain regard".

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Posted by peter at September 28, 2009 12:32 AM

Comments

I saw this at the Seattle Film Festival in 2008. Like you, I found Yam to be nearly unrecognizable. He's got those bland, unremarkable features that make his cold turns in films like To's "Election" and "Triad Election" all the more chilling.

Posted by: Rick at October 5, 2009 09:02 PM