Triple Threat (China/Thailand/USA, 2019)
A group of mercenaries are sent into an MI6 black site to retrieve a known criminal and terrorist. Channelling the opening jungle raid from Predator (1987), the assault is viciously efficient and brutal, the camp guards heavily outmatched and outclassed. The small group of assassins are of such high calibre they only require one name: Devereaux (Michael Jai White), Joey (Michael Bisping), Mook (Jeeja Yanin) and the man they free from the bowels of the camps prison, their fearless leader, Collins (Scott Adkins). To help them navigate the jungles of Maha Jaya, they bring along two local guns for hire, Payu (Tony Jaa) and Long-Fei (Tiger Chen). In the ensuing gun battle, the wife of one of the camps guards is killed. Unforunately for this lethal band of mercenaries, than man just happens to be Jaka (Iko Uwais). Vowing revenge, he proceeds to track down those responsible for her death, and in his pursuit of justice is drawn into the mercenary groups next mission; to kill Xian (Celina Jade), the daughter of a wealthy Chinese businessman who is intent on using her families money to end gang corruption in Maha Jaya.
Full disclosure, I’m a massive martial arts nerd, so Triple Threat has been in my centre line of anticipatory excitement since it’s full cast was announced two years ago – has it really been that long? Thankfully, Jesse V Johnson’s work over the years has grown on me. When Triple Threat was first announced I was apprehensive to say the least, as he hadn’t really done anything that convinced me we wouldn’t be seriously let down with such a talented cast. Would it go the way of The Expendables 2 (2012) and tease us with a seriously awesome showdown between two highly skilled martial artists only to give us a terribly orchestrated celluloid mess of a showdown? Since then Johnson has hit his stride and made a string of films starring the great Scott Adkins. Savage Dog (2017), The Debt Collector (2018), and Accident Man (2018) were all solid action affairs. He’s clearly found his onscreen martial arts muse and solidified his style. Triple Threat is the culmination of that trifecta of films, producing what is easily Johnson’s most polished work to date.
Borrowing the brutality of Savage Dog and the cheeky edge of Accident Man, Triple Threat is a bloody tempest of cinematic fury, at times a brutal melange of fighting styles and acting talents which elevates this highly anticipated pulp throwback into a thrilling and entertaining martial arts extravaganza. Tim Man’s choreography is on point as always, allowing each actor to showcase their unique set of martial art talents. If you were slightly disappointed that the showdown between Chen and Uwais in Man of Tai Chi (2013) was mostly Chen not wanting to engage in combat, you’ll be treated to a barrage of fights between all the talents in a variety of routine genre locales. Jungle assault, underground cage fight, police station assault, and a massive showdown in the confines of an abandoned mansion.
If the film has one major weak point, it’s that Yanin is rather underused considering what she’s capable of showcasing. The acting can be questionable at times, but Jaa definitely shines as the most charismatic and radiant of the bunch. Adkins exercises his acting chops in a very funny turn as the main villain while Bisping seems to be making a seamless transition from MMA to acting. Granted, the years of actually getting punched and kicked in the face have taken a toll on his boyish looks and he’s clearly going to be typecast, but he definitely looks the part of vicious assassin. Smoorenburg, the high kicking goon from Jackie Chan’s Who Am I? (1998) is also part of the elite group of assassins and gets to flex those legs. We’re also treated to a cameo by Michael Wong which alludes to the underworld of assassins and markers that Payu once belonged to, evoking the underpinnings of John Wick (2014). Coincidentally, Joel Richard who did the music for Triple Threat also did work on the John Wick films.
Despite the occasional drift of focus, Triple Threat looks slick, is tightly edited and as we’ve grown accustomed to in films by stuntmen turned directors, the action is superbly blocked and staged (more John Wick comparisons!) Considering the tight budgets that films like this are made on, the production design is quite remarkable and the use of colour and texture at times most impressive. This is a serious, high-octane action thriller that delivers hard hitting and bloody cinematic martial arts mayhem.