Triple Threat (Jesse V. Johnson, 2019)


The second very fine action flick released by WellGo in two weeks, alongside the Vietnamese film FurieTriple Threat for some reason played but one night only in theatres before making its way to VOD. That’s somewhat understandable, given its straight-to-video pedigree, with both director Jesse V. Johnson and star Scott Adkins being major SVOD stars. But one would hope the ridiculous stack of martial arts movie talent would have earned the film a broader release, or at least the chance not to get buried in the hype around Netflix’s similarly-titled Triple Frontier. As it is, Triple Threat is a major event for afficianados of filmic fisticuffs, featuring several of the greatest screen fighters of our time. Joining Adkins are Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais and Tiger Chen, along with Michael Jai White, Celina Jade and, just for kicks, none other than Michael Wong. It’s a blunt instrument of a movie, eschewing anything approaching character or theme in favor of simply throwing its stars into a generic plot and sitting back to watch them do their thing. The best thing you can say about Johnson’s direction is that he doesn’t get in the way.

Uwais, the Indonesian star of the Raid movies who had his talent memorably wasted in The Force Awakens, is the victim of a terrorist jailbreak in the Burmese jungle, where White and his band of mercenaries free Adkins from imprisonment. He tracks down Jaa and Chen, who had unwittingly aided the bad guys in navigating the jungle (their laughable but earnest excuse is that they thought they were on a humanitarian mission, apparently the most heavily-armed one in history), and the three join forces to take revenge. Meanwhile the bad guys try to kidnap Celina Jade (the woman in distress in Wolf Warrior 2), but Jaa and Chen rescue her. The dividing line between Asian good guys and Euro-American bad guys is obvious but thoroughly unexplored.

The fights are in keeping with the dominant 21st Century style, pioneered by Jaa in his Ong-Bak movies and in Donnie Yen’s MMA-influenced films like SPL and Flash Point, fast and hard, with lots of flying elbows and knees. Adkins and White and the other beefy white guys are much bigger and stronger than their Asian foes, making every fight essentially about the little guy out-thinking the bigger one. This is where the choreography shines: it’s honestly the only creative thing in the entire movie. Chen comes off particularly well in this respect, as you’d expect from a protegé of Yuen Woo-ping. Uwais seems somewhat underused in the fights, though his character is nursing an injured arm through the whole movie, but he does get the coolest outfit. Adkins seems a natural fight as the bad guy, though he isn’t nearly as much fun as White is, or Frank Grillo was in Wolf Warrior 2 for that matter. As is usually the case, Tony Jaa outclasses everyone around him, not just in the fight scenes, but with his ever improving acting, briefly even showing a flair for comedy that was too-often absent in his Thai films.

In many ways, Triple Threat hearkens back to Wheels on Meals, that mid-80s highpoint of martial arts cinema, starring Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. That film too featured a trio of Asian stars uniting to defend a pretty girl from gangs of evil Europeans. But Johnson doesn’t have Sammo’s interest in film form or in comic set-piece construction, and his film has no emotional or intellectual resonance outside the visceral thrill of its fights (this is the reason why Furie, though just as generic in plot and filled with lesser stars, is more affecting). I suppose every generation gets the Wheels on Meals it deserves, and Triple Threat as such is a fine match for our dumb, brutal, meaninglessly efficient age.

SPL: Paradox (Wilson Yip, 2017)


It’s unclear if this film is actually a continuation of the SPL series or if it just started as one and then mutated into its own thing. I thought I saw the characters for “Sha Po Lang” on the title card of the movie though, so I’m just gonna go with it. Regardless, like the second film in the series, SPL 2: A Time for ConsequencesParadox has only a tenuous thematic relation to its forbearers: all of the characters are new. Louis Koo plays a Hong Kong cop who travels to Pattaya, in Thailand, in search of his daughter, who has gone missing. He hooks up with a Thai cop (Wu Yue) as the two uncover an organ trafficking ring with connections all the way to the top of city government. Helping out in the investigation is another cop, a superstitious (possibly psychic) Tony Jaa, star of the last SPL and arguably the best martial arts star in the world today, in what amounts to little more than a guest-starring role. The final villain is played by Lam Ka-tung (Sparrow, Trivisa), which means that the two most important Thai characters in the film are played by Chinese actors. Such are the vagaries of international cinema.

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VIFF 2017: Paradox (Wilson Yip, 2017)


You wouldn’t know it from the title or VIFF’s program notes, but Wilson Yip’s Paradox began life as the third entry in the SPL series before the film’s producers and programmers jettisoned any mention of its genealogy ahead of the official rollout. And to be clear, this doesn’t appear to be a quirk of North American unfamiliarity with the series: even in Hong Kong it played as a clandestine sequel, with nary a mention of Sha Po Lang in sight (in English, anyways). And to confuse things further, Soi Cheang, director of the superb second entry, was originally slated to direct Paradox, only to swap out for workman Wilson Yip, director of the not-entirely-superb original SPL, late in the game. Cheang retains a producing credit on Paradox and rumor has it that he will be back to direct the next SPL film, which may end up monikered ‘SPL 3’ if the pre-production reports are to be believed. In the world of Soi Cheang, things tend towards mutation.

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Episode 5: A Brighter Summer Day, SPL 2 and Purple Rain


With Mike on vacation this week Sean is joined by Seattle Screen Scene writer Melissa Tamminga to discuss Edward Yang’s long sought after 1990 epic A Brighter Summer Day, which has just recently been released by the Criterion Collection, and Soi Cheang’s action film SPL 2: A Time for Consequences, starring Tony Jaa and Wu Jing, which will be released here in the US as Kill Zone 2 in a couple of weeks. They also pick their essential Violent Youth films, take a look ahead to what’s coming soon to Seattle (and Bellingham) Screens and talk about Prince’s classic 1984 film Purple Rain.

You can listen to the show by downloading it directly, or by subscribing on iTunes or the podcast player of your choice.


Adrian Martin on Purple Rain