Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Triple Threat: Starring Everybody Cool

You could call it the Expendables of action movies, except the original Expendables were action movies to begin with. Those were big budget films, featuring big name stars, who were arguably on the downswing of their careers. This is the opposite: a scrappy production, featuring some of Asia’s best martial arts stars, alongside some direct-to-DVD-ish fan favorites, all of whom are in their absolute peak screen-fighting condition. Forget boring stuff like plot and focus on the martial arts when Jesse V. Johnson’s Triple Threat releases today on DVD.

Once Collins’ crew of mercenary terrorists break him out of a MI6 black site in the jungles of Southeast Asia, he can get down to the business of killing Chinese heiress Tian Xiao Xian. She has a lofty plan to fight crime in Maha Jaya, a fictional country that looks suspiciously like Thailand, with massive grants for education and social welfare. Frankly, the country’s crime syndicates would actually be delighted with such a scheme, because they would find a way to divert and appropriate funds from her program until it was nothing but dry bones, but fine, we will play along with the Macguffin.

Collins’ right-hand man Devereaux breaks him out, but he leaves three incredibly disappointed witnesses for dead. Payu and Long Fei were Indonesian guides, hired to guide them to the jungle prison, under the false pretext of a humanitarian rescue. Naturally, they quickly became loose ends. Jaka was a contractor hired by the British, whose wife died during the raid. Despite a rocky introduction, the two brothers will team up with Jaka to protect the heiress and get some payback. Admittedly, Jaka isn’t all that concerned about Tian, but Payu and Long Fei are more heroically inclined.

Presumably, the triple team refers to Jaka, Payu, and Long Fei, played by Iko Uwais, Tony Jaa, and Tiger Chen, respectively (all of whom are in fine form.) They are more than fairly matched by Collins and his band of marauders, featuring the brawn and chops of Scott Adkins (as Collins), Michael Jai White (as Devereaux), JeeJa Yanin (as Mook), and Michael Bisping (as Joey). Add in Celina Jade portraying the helpless heiress and nutty cameo from Michael Wong and you have yourself a movie.

Seriously, do not even worry about the story. Johnson is a pro at staging credible, visually legible fight scenes, having previously directed Adkins in a number of films, including The Debt Collector, Accident Man, and Savage Dog. He knows how to deliver what fans what and he has the ensemble to work with.

In fact, this is some of the best work Uwais and Jaa have done over the course of their last few films or so. Adkins is one of the few action stars who plays heroes and villains with roughly equal regularity, probably because he really looks like he is enjoying himself, strutting and sneering through the picture as Collins. Of course, White is all kinds of hardnosed as Devereaux. As an added bonus, Jennifer Qi Jun Yang shows promising action potential as Liang, Tian’s embassy-assigned body guard. Unfortunately, Yanin is given short shrift as Mook.

You really can’t go too far wrong with this cast, especially when Johnson has them do what they do best. Everyone is at the top of their games, except maybe the screenwriters, but they hardly matter. Highly recommended for martial arts fans, Triple Threat releases today (5/14) on DVD and BluRay.