Triple Threat (2019)

There’s a long tradition of movies made in Asia having a white / Western villain – think of pretty much any Jackie Chan movie, for example – but most movies made in English, at least partially for a Western audience, with “big” names in starring roles, definitely hew to the template of the brave (white) hero going overseas and whupping ass.

But nowadays, Chinese cash is flooding the movie business, and things are looking different. At the top end of things, that means big budget normal Hollywood fare with a Chinese co-star (such as “The Meg”) and at the level we normally come in at, movies like “Triple Threat”. I presume the title is nothing more than a happy coincidence with the Ben Affleck-starring “Triple Frontier”, and I’m also pretty sure this will be a lot more entertaining, and proper action movie length (not over two hours, in other words).

But enough of my half-assed theories about modern action cinema! You want to know if you should spend your hard-earned time / cash on this movie! I think if you’re a fan of the sort of movies we cover here, then just listing the cast will likely be enough to have you heading for your nearest movie rental service. Tony Jaa (Ong Bak, Furious 7, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage)! Iko Uwais (the two “Raid” movies)! Tiger Hu Chen (Man of Tai Chi, Kung Fu Traveler)! Celina Jade (Arrow)! And that’s just the Asian stars!

On the other side of things, let’s start with Michael Jai White (Undisputed, Black Dynamite). He’s long been a favourite of ours, so it’s cool to see him in a big-budget movie doing his thing. Michael Bisping, former UFC fighter and surprisingly not-terrible actor, is here too; as is another ISCFC superstar, Scott Adkins. We’ve covered a decent amount of his movies and have enjoyed pretty much all of them, and it’s cool to see him here as a really unhinged villain.

There’s a plot, but it’s definitely secondary to proceedings. A criminal syndicate is targeting Chinese people and businesses in the Asian diaspora, but authorities are powerless to stop them. So, two things happen at once. One, Xian (Jade) inherits her family business and pledges her enormous wealth to putting an end to the syndicate and protecting the world’s Chinese people. Two, a group of soldiers led by Devereaux (White) moves through the jungle and murders everyone at an MI-5 black site, to rescue one particular prisoner, Collins (Adkins). Well, they murder almost everyone – one guy, Jaka (Uwais) is thought dead but he survived – he was beaten by Payu (Jaa) and Long Fei (Chen) and is looking for revenge – he didn’t see any of the other terrorists.

Collins, Devereaux and their gang are then sent to kill Xian. Turns out Payu and Long Fei were just trackers they’d hired and then also left for dead as they wired the black site with explosives and destroyed it, so after a fight – in an underground fight league! Never change, movies! – the three men, all from different countries, team up to protect Xian and take down the terrorists.

Nice and simple. The joy in “Triple Threat” is, well, not only seeing some of the world’s best martial artist-actors doing their thing. Director Jesse Johnson (who also works as a stunt performer) knows enough to get out of the way of these guys – they all hit their signature moves and the fights are well choreographed and crisply shot and edited. There are some pretty good set pieces, too, like the assault on the police station and the chases through the streets.

I think it’s hampered, if anything, by its script. Perhaps the stars, from all over the world, all wanted to push things in different directions. Perhaps the Chinese backers insisted on certain plot devices. It’s the clunkiest part of what is otherwise a superb movie.

I had a hell of a good time watching this. Had the feel of an old-fashioned movie while having all the exciting camerawork and effects of a 2019 movie. While a lot of the enjoyment comes from seeing a cast of such legendary martial arts performers work together, it’s not just that. Okay, watching Scott Adkins go toe-to-toe with Iko Uwais and Tony Jaa at the same time is pretty amazing, and their fight delivers in spades. If you’re struggling to understand what a big deal this is for martial arts fans like me, then imagine some superhero you like and some other superhero you like teaming up to fight some iconic villain?

Recommended wholeheartedly. Director Johnson and star Adkins have another movie coming out this year, called “Avengement”, which doesn’t exactly help his “naming a movie something very similar to another, bigger-budget movie” issue with this one. But anyway! It looks great, and more Adkins is a good thing.

Rating: thumbs up

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Modern fighting – thoughts on “The Raid 2” and “In The Blood”

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The ISCFC loves fighting films – a few days ago, we reviewed martial arts classic “Dragons Forever”, and a few months ago we did modern gem “Ninja”. Today, we’re taking on a couple of brand new films with fighting at their core – one of them the sequel to a modern classic, the other a good old-fashioned (relatively) low-budget actioner starring someone best known for fighting for real. How do they shape up?

I wasn’t as big a fan of “The Raid” as some people. I enjoyed it a lot, but felt there was quite a lot of stuff I remembered from computer games – find a bit of cover, crouch behind it, shoot endless swarms of bad guys, repeat. Perhaps it was the rotten subtitles on the version I saw, which kept dropping out or going “invisible” (white words on white background), but I didn’t feel like it was worth the hype. “The Raid 2”, on the other hand, is a 2 ½ hour beast, a sequel that goes further, with more of…everything, really.

Iko Uwais is Rama, the cop who broke so many people in pieces in the first film, and this time the raid is to go undercover with Jakarta’s biggest criminal gang, not to bring them down but to discover the crooked cops who are on their payroll. This, unfortunately, involves him going to prison for 2 years – but luckily for us, he does get to have an amazing mass brawl in the middle of a muddy quad. The big boss’s son is in prison, so Rama helps him out, gains his trust and works alongside him. Add to this other gangs trying to muscle in on their territory, the son plotting against the father and the crooked cops trying to kill everyone, and you’ve got a recipe for insanity.

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The filmmakers clearly want you to bother about the plot of this one – Rama is supposed to be going to prison for a few months, but due to political interference, ends up in there for two years; although if you were expecting them to develop that side of the story in the gigantic running time of the film, you’d be disappointed. What the film does extraordinarily well is the fighting. The martial art of choice is pencak silat, one born in Indonesia and full of amazing close-fighting speed, and Iko Uwais clearly knows his stuff, as the fights are full of speed and incident and incredible precision.

Oh, and violence. Boy is this a bloody film – people get their faces smashed in and shot off, folks get impaled on a whole variety of things, Hammer Girl (her name in the film) uses her hammers to cause the sort of damage you’d expect…and so on. It’s really really violent. But beautiful, weirdly, as there are so many wonderfully filmed set pieces – like “Hero” but in the here and now.

I liked that this film wasn’t one long orgy of shooting and violence like the first one, but director Gareth Evans seems to have put an entire normal-length ultra-violent film in here, then added another hour of gangsters and crooked cops and betrayals. The thing is, I’m not sure a film like this really needs to be quite as long as it is (two and a half hours)- and it’s got an exceptionally downbeat ending, if you think about it for a minute.

So, “The Raid 2” goes over the top with violence, while giving us plenty to chew on, and it’s an enthusiastic thumbs up from me. It feels very very modern, too, but our other film of the day, “In The Blood” feels like it was taken straight from the 80s (with the exception of the gender of the protagonist).

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Gina Carano is brilliant. She was a kickass MMA fighter, and drew some impressive PPV numbers for her fights until she ran into the (chemically enhanced) Christiane “Cyborg” Santos. After that, someone decided she could make a lot more money acting and not have to get her head kicked in for real, so she made a move. Her first big role was the Stephen Soderbergh-directed “Haywire”, which I loved, and while she’s still not the world’s best actress, she’s not bad and improving all the time. She plays Ava, who marries Derek (Cam Gigandet) after they meet in Alcoholics Anonymous. He’s rich, and his family don’t want him marrying someone like her, who’s probably just after his money, but they do anyway and go for a honeymoon to an unnamed Caribbean island.

We also get regular flashbacks to Carano’s childhood, where she watches her parents get killed (before killing the two assailants herself) and then is brought up by the sort of mysterious fella you get in films like this, who teaches her how to fight extremely dirty and generally look after herself. This is a handy way round the explanation for her being an amazing martial artist, so when Derek falls from a zipline and disappears on his way to hospital, she starts beating her way to the truth.

This is where the film stops making sense, too. I’d suggest stopping reading now (rating: thumbs up) if you don’t want to have it spoiled, as I’m not a good enough reviewer to tell you why otherwise.

Derek is important because he’s an exact bone marrow match for violent gangster Silvio (Amaury Nolasco), who has some rare cancer. The problem is, with the timescale of the film, there’s no possible way Silvio could have known that about Derek before everyone started acting weird. Thinking back on it, it starts to make less sense – unpicking the series of events that led Derek to being kidnapped by Silvio, I’m trying to remember if he had a blood test at any point, and I just don’t think he did. Talking of stuff that makes no sense, what about the bizarre way Derek’s family treat Ava when they come over from the mainland? They seem fairly satisfied that she murdered him and hid the body and just leave after a day or so, never to be seen again.

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So, provided you can completely ignore the fact that this film’s plot is a complete house of cards and the merest whisper of wind is enough to send it tumbling, there’s plenty to enjoy. It’s got some great B-movie people in it (as well as Nolasco, we have Treat Williams and Danny Trejo) and Gina Carano is beautiful. No sense ignoring it, and despite being grotesquely large by Hollywood standards (in other words, built like a fit, strong, athletic woman rather than an undernourished waif) she dominates every scene she’s in and when she fights men, she looks infinitely better than when we’re expected to believe some 100-pound woman who looks like she’s never trained a day in her life can beat the crap out of some ripped 200-pound guy (there’s a reason boxing and MMA have weight classes, you guys).

A bit more acting development and Carano could be a huge star, but I think the writers (one of whom only did cheap horror sequels before this, the other wrote “Dumb and Dumber”) need to work on establishing why stuff happens. I annoyed my viewing companion by trying to puzzle out the ludicrousness of the story, and probably when I cheered at the nightclub fight, where women in tiny dresses throw each other around, so sorry about that; but I’m not sorry for still being unable to work out why A followed B in this movie. So watch and enjoy, but don’t whatever you do spend any time thinking about it.