Johnnie To uses his favorite theme of cops and criminals, adds some doctors,  and places all the action in a hospital, as he directs a truly agonizing thriller.

 

Suspense is the key word

Dr Tong Qian is one of the youngest neurosurgeons in the country, but seems to have stumbled upon a wall, as she has made some mistakes lately, particularly because she was overconfident. Eventually, a team of policemen headed by Chief Inspector Ken bring in a criminal with a head injury, Shun. While Dr Qian tries to operate on him, he wakes up, as it is proven that the bullet in his head has not hit anything crucial, and Shun does not give permission to operate on him. Furthermore, Inspector Ken seems to be trying to cover up the events that led to his injury and, at the same time, to discover the whereabouts of the rest of his gang. Shun also seems to have an agenda in his head (sic), while Dr Qian is set on operating on him.

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Masterful direction

Johnnie To directs a claustrophobic film that occasionally functions as a stage play, as it takes place mostly in a single room of the hospital. Agony is the key word here. Every main character seems to be drowning in it: Dr Qian for her failures in her line of work, which is very stressful to begin with. Chief Inspector Ken in order to keep the actual events from unveiling and to find out what Shun is scheming. Shun, despite his seemingly cool exterior, in order to make the necessary preparations and because, well, he actually has a bullet in his head.

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In a setting that soars with tension, everything that occurs is a cause for additional stress. A phone call, yelling patients, a half-crazy one who escapes his bed, a particular whistle, every little thing can make the already tense situation to explode.

 

A magnificent finale

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However, all of the above is actually a warm-up for the final showdown, in an astonishing gun-shooting sequence that highlights almost every aspect of the film. The events actually occur very fast, but using slow motion, fast forward, and constantly changing film speed, To shoots a scene that seems to last forever. Cheng Siu Keung’s cinematography, and Allen Leung and David M. Richardson’s editing find their zenith in this scene, while Xavier Jamaux’s music heightens the tension of the sequence, even more.

 

The omnipresent illogicality

As usual in To’s films (and in HK action films in general), there is some nonsensicality regarding the script, as witnessed in the main villain’s concept and a scene involving a handicapped man’s walking, near the end of the film. However, since this trait is part of the HK legacy, is expected and not bothersome at all.

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Competent acting

The three main protagonists are quite good in their roles. Vicki Zhao portrays realistically the genius doctor who has “hit a wall” and does not know how to overcome it. Louis Koo is impressive as Chief Inspector Ken, whose patience and cool evaporate as  time passes, eventually transforming him into something not much different than his opponent. The chemistry of the two is quite evident, and exemplified in a slapping scene. Wallace Chung is also good as Shun, a very knowledgeable criminal, who manages to appear cool, despite his terrible predicament.

 

“Three” is a great action thriller, a film that proves Johnnie To still “got it.”

“Three” was the film that closed the Five Flavours Film Festival that was on in Warsaw (November 16 – 23) and Wroclaw (November 18-24).

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