Three movie review – Johnnie To stages high-stakes hospital drama

Three has stellar shootout, but flatlines hospital drama

A cop, a criminal and a doctor walk into a hospital sounds like the start of a promising joke. Johnnie To’s Three similarly has an intriguing premise, but suffers from an underwhelming payoff.

After a shootout, criminal Shun (Wallace Chung) is in critical care and taken to a local hospital. When Dr. Tong (Wei Zhao) attempts a life-saving surgery, Shun refuses. This puts Inspector Chen (Louis Koo), the cop willing to break any law to protect the law in a bind as he knows Shun is angling for his pals to rescue him.

Set-up wise, Three shares some plot threads with Assault on Precinct 13. Although set in a police station, the imminent threat of criminals attacking a safe place to free one of their own made for a thrilling everything hits the fan scenario.

Three movie review - Louis Koo as Cop

Despite an 87-minute run time, Three feels a little longer.  That’s largely due to To packing on scene after scene of setup. What could have been a tense, action thriller in a hospital setting instead plays out like just another episode of ER, Chicago Hope or any of the other dozen medical shows.

Tong is the focal character with Shun and Chen crashing an otherwise regular day at the emergency room — minus the threat of a gunfight breaking out. As pressing as their conflict might be, Tong has other issues. One recent surgery left a patient partially paralyzed and her burnout leads to another botched surgery.

From that perspective the film should feel more Screenwriters Lau Ho-leung, Mak Tin-shu and Yau Nai-hoi spend too much time on Tong’s patients. Given their screen time, it seemed obvious there was something more afoot and a twist was imminent. There’s no Keyser Soze moment sadly and the supporting characters really are just there to continually kill the serious mood with their antics.

Three movie review - Wallace Chung as Dealer

That’s more than a little frustrating as the three leads are compelling enough they don’t need the help. Zhao conveys a driven self-assured surgeon undeterred by criticism and second-guessing. In a lot of ways Koo makes the inspector more of a villain than Shun, whom Chung makes into a charismatic adversary.

When he gets to the action, To finally lets loose and has some fun with an extended four-minute long take action sequence. The actors reportedly simulated slow-motion instead of using fancy camera gimmicks so some move at faster speeds than others. It’s a neat visual trick that’s a fun payoff for those jonesing for the shootout. Once the bullets stop flying, Three settles back into its confusing narrative that isn’t nearly as satisfying.

Three movie review - Wei Zhao as Doctor

The question then is Three worth the journey for one amazing sequence? Probably. It’s the kind of action scene we’re not likely to see duplicated many times this year. With a better script, Three could have been special instead of just having to settle for one spectacular scene.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Photo Credit: Well Go USA Entertainment