Thailand/China/US (2019) Dir. Jesse V. Johnson
It sounds like an action cinema fans dream to see the worlds of esoteric Asian martial arts, Kung Fu and MMA come together in a violent bullet riddled, fist and feet flying blow out. British stuntman turned filmmaker Jesse V. Johnson has decided he is the man to bring together the cream of these respective combat disciplines for our entertainment.
Two skilled trackers Payu (Tony Jaa) and Long Fei (Tiger Chen) are duped by a group of mercenaries, led by Devereaux (Michael Jai White), in helping to free terrorist Collins (Scott Adkins) from a Thai prison camp. One villager Jaka (Iko Uwais) witnessed his wife being killed and sought revenge against Payu and Long Fei, but joins forces with them learning of the betrayal.
Meanwhile, Chinese billionaire heiress Tian Xiao Xian (Celina Jade) publicly vows to use her wealth to bring down a major crime syndicate headed by Su Feng (Monika Mok) and stop future attacks against Chinese community in Thailand. Su Feng puts a contract out on Xiao Xian, hiring Collins and his disparate squad to make the hit, leaving Payu, Long Fei, and Jaka to act as her protectors.
Action films are hard to get right if you don’t have a compelling story to drive them but action film fans don’t usually care about the story, they just want the action. Talk about a rock and hard place, which is why in today’s world, the stories are half-baked enough to be functional in getting from punch up to punch up, especially as the world is such a dark place right now.
On paper at least, the concept or big selling point of Triple Threat as a sort of Asian-led version of The Expendables is an enticing prospect for hardcore fans of action cinema, where the story could be anything as long as this impressive line-up gets to kick butt! In that respect, this film delivers but with the caveat of having too many great names in one film, whilst the story is serviceable enough to get us there.
Unfortunately, the story does hinge on a rather flawed premise – that someone would openly announce their intention to fund the demise of a crime cartel. Did Xiao Xian not think for one moment this would put a huge target on her back? It would appear that the mysterious Su Feng (not seen in full until the very end) is also lacking the concept of subtlety as she commands Collins and his crew to take out Xiao Xian as she leaves a TV studio, in full view of everyone!
But, it’s an action film and escapism is the key so it is better just to run with it otherwise trying to make sense of dramatic licence will cause too many headaches. On the flip side, the initial double cross at the start is well done, leading us to think Collins is a political prisoner, and the violent means to ensuring his freedom is justified. Some might find it predictable but it is a decent swerve nonetheless, though the lack of character building for both Collins, his team and Payu and Long Fei isn’t sufficiently followed up to make it count with any significance.
Then there is Jaka, one of the guards at the village whose wife is killed in the attack, fuelling his thirst for vengeance. He engages in a very brief tussle with Payu and Long Fei enabling him to hold their responsible for his wife’s death, unaware of the betrayal that left them for dead. His story is relayed via a quick info dump later on, otherwise he is a lone survivor looking to crack some heads open.
Jaka hunts them down at an underground fight club where they put their military trained skills to good use and win money beating up wannabes. Tony Jaa gets to showcase his Muay Thai in a quick bout whilst Tiger Chen and Iko Uwais gives us a short but nifty, hard hitting kung fu vs. Silat clash. It is only afterwards that they realise they share the same enemy and agree to work together (Jaka suddenly forgiving his wife’s murder just like that!)
From here the plot resumes its Hong Kong homage, this time riffing on Infernal Affairs as Jaka infiltrates Collins’ group whilst Payu and Long Fei look after Xiao Xian. Obviously, this is going to be as sophisticated and taut as the Andrew Lau/Alan Mak classic, not in the least the 92-minute run time not allowing for it to be expanded, and the fact there are fights still to be included.
Really this is what people came for and the mix of styles and familiar faces facing off against each other, but again some fights are shorter than they should have been. One egregious victim of this is Jeeja Yanin, the lone female fighter who gets 20-seconds to spar with Uwais before being blown to pieces. So much for diversity in modern cinema.
Thus the typical testosterone is on full display as the like of former MMA fighter Michael Bisping, Michael Jai White, and Scott Adkins – all competent fighters, not so much as actors, tussle with the three Asian heroes in a series of bone-crunching CGI and wire free fights with a variety of styles on display.
Some may be expecting more from this line-up which is understandable but under the circumstances it’s not that it doesn’t at least fulfils its action quotient regularly. It befalls to Celina Jade to carry the acting side of things as the fish-out-of-water rich girl which she does well enough, though Tony Jaa, who seems to turning into Simon Yam facially, is a surprise with his comedic moments.
Given the lure of the star cast, complaining about Triple Threat’s shortcomings over its undemanding entertainment value is like complaining a hamburger is made of meat. Whether you find it to be prime beef or a McDonald’s patty, it staves of the hunger pangs adequately enough.