VOD Review: Triple Threat.
Triple Threat is a throwback 80’s style action flick that entertains, not innovates.
It’s been a while since we had some martial arts action around here. With the genre being dominated by gritty gun-play flicks like John Wick and Atomic Blonde, Triple Threat feels like a decided throwback. Machine guns blaze, high kicks fly, and three of the best young martial arts stars in the genre throw down, but Triple Threat feels like an iteration on the genre instead of a fresh take.
Triple Threat (2019).
A band of mercenaries trek through the jungles of Thailand, led by two guides, Payu (Tony Jaa) and Long Fei (Tiger Chen), looking to raid an army camp. When the mercs successfully destroy the camp and free their vicious leader, Collins, they flip on their guides and leave them for dead. A third fighter, Jakka (Iko Uwais) also survives the bloody encounter and swears revenge.
Back in the city, the three try to figure out a plan of attack when fortune brings them a new ally: a wealthy Chinese heiress is the target of Collins’ thugs, and she must rely on the Payu, Long Fei, and Jakka for aid.
Director Jesse V. Johnson is definitely channeling an older, American-style action flick. The crew who infiltrate the jungle are carbon copies of the team Arnold Schwarzenegger leads in the original Predator, down to the dude with the glasses. The gun play is frequent, loud, and silly in the way many of Arnie’s best action flicks are: hundreds of bullets are fired, but nobody important can get hit, even if they’re feet away. The banter is a mix of macho-soaked tough guy lines and some attempts at snappy one-liners.
The actual draw of the film is the three main leads. While martial art flicks have waned in popularity in America, these three are the closest thing we have to Jet Li/Jackie Chan style superstars. Tony Jaa almost crossed the threshold into super stardom with Ong Bak and The Protector in the early 2000’s, and Iko Uwais did the same with The Raid series in the 2010’s. Tiger Chen is the odd man out, mainly because he’s like Donny Yen – a martial artist’s martial artist who doesn’t often grab the limelight.
The film somewhat accommodates their styles, mostly ye aping the best moments of their respective hits. Tony Jaa shows off his penchant for aerial, Muay Thai based combat heavy on bone crushing hits. Tiger Chen gets fluid, David vs. Goliath, kung fu ballet sequences, that are some of the best choreographed in the film. Iko Uwais trades on the brutal reputation of his films with grueling slugfests where he’s rarely the guy in the lead. It gives you a nice taste of their styles, but not a deep dive.
Pros and Cons.
The story of Triple Threat is fairly flimsy, but does use some subterfuge to keep things from being completely telegraphed. Like many 80’s flicks, its just good enough to justify all of the fighting.
So, how’s the action? Let’s take it order.
- Gunplay. The gunplay here is really subpar, especially in light of the tremendous work being done by Keanu Reeves and the myriad films John Wick inspired. The police are bullet decoys and the baddies are Teflon. A typical example: a cop opens up on the group of mercs from 5 feet away with a machine gun and hits exactly zero baddies.
- Chase Sequences. There’s a lot of chases here, on foot or by car, and they’re just OK. Tony Jaa is a master of the foot chase sequences, and he barely gets to show any of his chops. The car sequences are fairly pedestrian, and any gunplay in them is hampered by the “nobody with a first name ever gets hit” syndrome from above.
- Violence. The film is surprisingly gory early on, but goes completely PG-13 by the end. I guess they just wanted fans of The Raid not to check out too early.
- Fights. The fight sequences grade on a scale from decent to good, but rarely excellent. Tiger Chen’s fights look the best, with the camera staying focused and a respectful distance away. Not a surprise, as Tiger Chen got his break as a choreographer under Yuen Woo Ping (The Matrix) and he always makes great looking fights.
Iwo Ukais’ fights are visceral, but short, and he’s never really allowed to finish anybody off. He does have the best rivalry with a villain played by Michael Jai White (Spawn, Exit Wounds), but his fight gets interrupted multiple times. It kind of shows that he’s the junior-most partner in this film.
Tony Jaa is obviously the senior partner. His style is so iconic and indelible, you’d be a fool not to highlight it. Triple Threat gives him ample scenes to show off his Muay Thai, like in an early underground pit fight that feels ripped from Ong Bak. His flashy final fight likewise feels authentic…but taken from films like The Protector. It’s nice to see him in action again, but it really just feels like a highlight reel instead of something new for him to explore.
At the end of the day, Triple Threat is unapologetically a throwback that manages to cover its bases. We get so few high-profile martial arts action flicks these days, Triple Threat just scratches the itch. It’s a lukewarm glass of water in the dessert. It’s nothing inspired, but it is mostly enjoyable. I went in to it hoping that we would finally get a film that demonstrates to Western audiences how dynamic the three leads are. We get more of an appetizer that will make you hungry to go back to their more famous films.