Directed by: Johnnie To
Starring: Louis Koo, Wei Zhou, Wallace Chung, Lam Suet
Chief Inspector Chen and his team of detectives arrive at a busy hospital with a wounded suspect - Shun, the leader of a vicious gang of armed robbers, who has a bullet wound to the side of his head. Dr Tong Qian wants to operate immediately, but neither Chen nor Shun want to cooperate with her - Chen wants a confession, while Shun wants to bide his time to allow his men to arrive and break him free...
Johnnie To's latest film exudes the cinematic style that is all his own, but is set to a very different tempo than we might be used to.
Things start as a straightforward hospital drama, with some lurid surgery footage followed by Dr Qian being berated by one of her patients, left partially paralysed following a life-saving operation. with the detectives arriving with their suspect and and we're presented with a mix of intense stares and high farce (thanks to Lam Suet, the rotund actor who is in virtually every Johnnie To film).
It soon becomes apparent that Inspector Chen and his men might have been a little heavy handed in arresting Chun, and may be responsible for his head injury. Meanwhile, Chun has convinced the doctor to allow him his one phonecall, which he uses to call his men!
The film then develops into a series of cat-and-mouse mind games. Chun uses a couple of the other patients to help set things in motion, and we watch as his men slowly take up positions and set bombs in the waste bins. It seems to take a long time, but the payoff is worth the wait.
This film is virtually set in one space, the emergency ward of Victoria Hospital. There are long 360 degree tracking shots, establishing the space, which is then used to make smaller spaces within it (the operating room, or drawing the curtains around the bed). There are big dilemmas to consider - the cops acted with the best intentions but how far are they willing to go to cover up their mistake? Is the surgeon the right person to operate and should a murderous criminal be granted the same treatment as everyone else?
Louis Koo is the cop on morally dubious ground, and he is as tough as nails here. Wallace Chung as Shun makes a perfect foil, able to outsmart the police surrounding him and putting everyone's lives in serious danger. Lam Suet is as watchable as always but here he's forced into a more bumbling role than usual, making you wonder how he ever became a policeman, let alone a detective!
THREE is definitely one of Johnnie To's lesser films, which still puts it head and shoulders above at least half of the other good films coming out this year. It does require a little bit of patience as all the pieces are moved into position but the payoff, a long one-take shootout in the emergency room, is worth the wait.
7 out of 10 (MIkeOutWest)