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Chinese language cinema

Film review: Three – Louis Koo, Zhao Wei and Wallace Chung converge in hospital-set thriller

A curiously paced film with flashes of brilliance and a compelling ending, this work by Johnnie To, about a pushy surgeon, a devious detective and a slippery criminal forced into moral compromises can be read as an allegory of Hong Kong’s current state

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 July, 2016, 4:51pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 July, 2016, 5:04pm

3.5/5 stars

A minor work by a master craftsman, Johnnie To Kei-fung’s Three tells a haphazardly scripted and weirdly paced story with intermittent flashes of technical brilliance. Set almost entirely in a Hong Kong hospital, the crime thriller – with a linear timeline to boot – plays like a chamber drama that largely conceals its maker’s genre pedigree until a belated series of mini-explosions, a tour de force shoot-out showpiece and a cliffhanger conclusion provide uncharacteristic pay-off.

Before that eventual shift in tone, the film wraps its trio of lead characters in a consistently enjoyable cat-and-mouse game. Tong (Zhao Wei) is a China-born neurosurgeon who adopts an overly aggressive manner to prove her professional competence, sometimes at the risk of committing medical negligence. Her inauspicious day in the operating room is only getting worse when a dangerous criminal, Shun (Wallace Chung Hon-leung), is rushed in with handcuffs around his wrist.

Johnnie To explores the moral maze facing police in crime drama Three

An armed robbery suspect with a bullet precariously lodged in his head, Shun regains consciousness just in time to refuse surgery – much to the doctor’s dismay. Placed under medical observation, the crafty criminal’s demand to make a phone call is then snubbed by haughty police inspector Ken (Louis Koo Tin-lok), who is mindful of Shun’s accomplices on the loose. To protect one of their own, the officers are also planning to obstruct justice by framing Shun for his own shooting.

The story by Yau Nai-hoi, Lau Ho-leung and Mak Tin-shu is populated by colourful supporting characters who often go out without notice. But as Tong and Ken struggle to cover up their wrong moves with desperate measures, the narrative inconsistencies appear superfluous next to the protagonists’ moral compromises – with all of these taking place in a closed-off setting that could easily be viewed as a microcosm of Hong Kong’s increasingly fractured society today.

Three opens on July 14

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