Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Tsui! Lam! To! TRIANGLE!

I've often thought it would be a great idea if two top film directors would direct a movie together. I don't mean an anthology film or one directs one half of the movie each, but that they actually direct the film together, Coen Brothers style. Just imagine what a film directed by both Martin Scorsese and, say, Quentin Tarantino would be like. Would it be disjointed, a clash of egos, or would it end up being something new and fresh that would add something new to their respective directing styles? I know the real reason why those things don't actually happen - the DGA doesn't allow it - but it's a cool idea nonetheless. It may sound overly fannish, but if it works it can be something new and exciting. Who wouldn't want something like that to happen?

That's not exactly the case with TRIANGLE, but it's kinda close and if you're a fan of Hong Kong cinema (which I happen to be), it's a bit of a dream come true. TRIANGLE is co-directed by Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam and Johnnie To, three of the Hong Kong greats, each of them directing one act of the story in the order I just presented. The plot: Three casual friends (Simon Yam, Louis Koo and Sun Honglei), all in need of cash, meet a mysterious stranger who gives them instructions on where they can unearth a rare artifact. Unfortunately, there are people on their ass who making their lives hell: Yam's wife is having an affair with a brutish cop out to kill him, while Koo is in debt to a trio of Mainland gangsters who want him to drive a getaway car for a jewel store heist. Once the friends pull off their little heist, then things get really complicated.

So that's Tsui Hark's contribution, the set up, and Tsui works it all like a pro. Tsui has a somewhat thankless job here, as he can't go into much of his trademark dynamic action set-pieces or else he'll risk fucking up the rest of the film for his co-directors, but he admirable stays on track (and also serves to remind you that even with the beloved insanity of KNOCK-OFF and TIME AND TIDE, he can make pared-down, efficient films, too. I can't think of any of them right now, but let's just assume that for the sake of this piece, OK? (Oh, and by the way, KNOCK-OFF is a brilliant masterpiece of motion picture making. So is DOUBLE TEAM. Anyway, back to point.) My point being, the set-up works; we're intrigued with the robbery and the mechanics of the plot, tying all the various characters together, is starting to work. There are also some nice Tsui touches peppered throughout, but nothing is overdone. A solid opening.

As with any heist movie, the essence of the story isn't in the heist itself (unless you're talking RIFIFI) but the aftermath, and here's where things begin to go astray for TRIANGLE in a lot of ways. the second segment is directed by Ringo Lam, one of Hong Kong's crime film masters, but also the director with the spottiest track record of the three. He's got some classics (CITY ON FIRE, FULL CONTACT), sure, but also some misfires (VICTIM) and he hasn't come up with a great film in a long time. His midsection here is likewise disjointed; the plot begins to unravel for the protagonists and for the audience, too. Lam veers off into some odd, character-oriented directions that only draw things out too long and makes this segment the bloodiest in the entire film, so much so that you wonder a bit how certain characters who have been stabbed, shot, or hit with cars can still be walking. The subplot of Yam and his wife takes center stage and drags the film down a bit - it simply isn't that interesting - and there's too much time focused on it. However, once To takes over absolutely none of that matters. Man, oh man, do I loves me some Johnnie To!

Sometimes all it takes is a rousing finish to make an otherwise problematic picture look much better, and there's no question that Johnnie To's final third of TRIANGLE is what puts it into the category of really satisfying entertainment. The wrapping-up of TRIANGLE becomes yet another example of what makes To's film so wonderful. Suddenly it becomes an joyful, inventive playhouse of filmmaking and a terrific comedy, too, with all of the characters converging in one place, each of them carrying a white plastic bag filled with something they don't want the others to see. There's a shootout, of course, where To slyly references his recent films EXILED and THROW DOWN, but it's a wonderful action set piece, too, and for me the whole thing was just one giant grin-inducing pleasure. Best of all, the shift in gears doesn't feel too out of place. The movie has already shown itself to be a little schizoid, so why not have fun with it and get even crazier? No matter what you think, it certainly save the picture and lets you leave it with a big smile on your face. OK, maybe I'm a little predisposed to liking it, being a To fan and all, but the important thing is I did like it. TRIANGLE is saved and has a memorable final third. I have no problem with that.

So certainly if you're a fan of either of these three guys TRIANGLE is worth seeing, but it's also worth it if you're interested to see how an experiment like this works. I love how these guys finally teamed up and applaud the results. I wish this kind of thing happened more often.

No comments: