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March 28, 2017



San ren xing
Johnnie To - 2016
Well Go USA Entertainment BD Region A

Three is an exercise in formalism by Johnnie To. Until the inevitable shoot out near the end, there is very little action as such. The pacing is deliberately slow compared to To's other films. Most of the film takes place on the floor of a hospital where all of the patients are separated by curtains. This would make sense if these were all emergency patients, but that's not the case here. The setting is essentially there to allow To to design most of the action within a confined space.

The three of the title are Chen, the Hong Kong cop who has brought the gangster, Shun, to the hospital. Shun has a bullet in his head, yet otherwise is able to function. The neurosurgeon, Tong, is to operate on Shun, adding to a stressful day. In addition to one patient paralyzed following surgery, Dr. Tong finds herself unable to save another patient, resulting in leaving him in a coma. Refusing the surgery that would save his life, Shun taunts Chen, who is hoping to capture the other members of Shun's gang. As Chen, Louis Koo has to keep a straight face, while Wallace Chung, as Shun, gets to show off, whether flopping manically in the gurney while have a seizure, or spouting off the Hippocratic oath in English to Dr. Tong.

This is a film where almost everything goes wrong for most of the characters. That's obvious from the moment when Shun is brought in, handcuffed to a gurney, and the cop called Fatty, played by To regular Lam Suet, has lost the keys to the handcuffs. Even when it looks like Fatty will finally redeem himself in pursuit of a gang member, he almost loses what little dignity he has left. Vickie Zhao takes a pratfall as Dr. Tong, tripping down a flight of stairs. To even has the paralyzed patient rolling and tumbling down a staircase with his wheelchair. There is also a mysterious phone number that seems to lead to a dead end, an unexplained switching of medicine, and characters whistling Mozart. Of course, Johnnie To has his own ideas about what constitutes a little night music.

Shun's gang goes to elaborate lengths to rescue their leader, as seen in the set piece, a series of tableaux of explosions and gunfire within the hospital floor. The action is rendered in extreme slo-mo, with the camera surveying the action with traveling shots circling the floor. On a technical level, this is spectacular, the artistry involved can not be denied. It's not a stretch to see this scene as To's claustrophobic version of the climactic massacre at the end of The Wild Bunch. The difference is that nihilism is integral to The Wild Bunch and Sam Peckinpah.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 28, 2017 08:32 AM