By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
Johnnie To’s “Three” opens with a surgery. Scheduled surgery, emergency surgery, the action doesn’t make it clear which — possibly some of both — with the circumstances left unstated. The camera, masterminded by cinematographer Cheng Siu-keung, climbs inside wounds, sutures, stitching, looking at damage from the inside of the body.
Ironic, because the plot of “Three” rides on the impossibility of knowing anyone (perhaps not even oneself) from the inside, out. The trio of characters find themselves at cross-purposes, scheming against each other for personal gain, and for the good of humanity, each always opaque to the others.
Vicki Zhao stars as Dr. Tong, a surgeon, a bigwig in the hospital, but hassled and haunted by a decision she made, which left a young man paralyzed. Her new patient Shun (Wallace Chung) lies with a gunshot wound to his head.
Slowly we discover, as implausible as it sounds, that he’s a master criminal who administered his own wound, so as to get into a hospital instead of prison. He’s playing the long game. And only the police detective Ken (Louis Khoo) might be able to figure out how Shun aims to get from his hospital bed, back out to freedom.
In real life, Vicki Zhao’s immensely rich, one of the highest-paid actors in all of China. You wouldn’t know it from watching “Three.” Dr. Tong holds her head up high, but you quickly see the forces pulling her down — stress, overwork, uncertainty. Wallace Chung has the most fun — his hoodlum rather improbably knows a great deal about Western medicine and Western philosophy, so he spouts off along those lines, maybe as a symptom of his head injury, maybe as an impetuous stab at malingering. Khoo, as detective Ken, glares and grumbles and suspects. Until the big finish.
And its big finish seems a little too long coming, especially in a film less than 90 minutes long. When it comes, however, bullets burst glass, bodies fall through the air with the stately elegance of asteroids orbiting the sun, and the enterprising Shun will see the payoff of a diabolical plan, which doesn’t quite go like clockwork. It’s all wild and fun and not at all realistic. I wish I could see a stronger connection to what came before. The three schemers in their three little worlds, bound to collide. Bound to wound.
“Three” is playing at Seattle’s AMC Pacific Place 11 Theater, 600 Pine Street, Pacific Place Mall, Seattle. Check local listings for prices and showtimes.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.