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Monday, September 7, 2009

TRIANGLE -- DVD review by porfle

Three big names in Hong Kong cinema--directors Tsui Hark, Johnnie To, and Ringo Lam--come together to form TRIANGLE (2007), an exciting tale of greed, intrigue, and redemption.

Each director worked independently of the others, so the film's tone changes noticeably from one segment to the next. Yet this serves to keep the film interesting since we never know quite what to expect. Crime, domestic turmoil, and touches of comedy lead to a midsection that's melancholy and almost surreal, which then gives way to a shoot-em-up finale filled with confusion and misdirection.

One constant is the excellent cast and their interesting characters. Simon Yam is a middle-class failure named Sam who is about to lose his house and whose delusional wife, Ling (Kelly Lin), thinks he's having an affair with his previous wife, May, who's dead. Ling, meanwhile, is being unfaithful to Sam with a crooked cop named Wen (Lam Ka-Tung) and imagines herself pregnant by him. She asks him to kill Sam for her, which he's willing to do until he discovers that Sam and two of his friends, Mok and Fei, have stumbled onto an ancient golden burial vest that could net them millions of dollars.

Former soldier Mok (Sun Honglei) is an antique dealer who's also about to lose it all. Fei (Louis Koo) divides his time between snitching for Wen and trying to enlist Sam as a driver in a jewel heist to be committed by some scary criminals known as The Brothers. When the opportunity to get their hands on the priceless burial vest presents itself, the three waste no time in devising a plan to procure it. But nothing goes as planned and before long, they're all embroiled in a tangled mess that could get them all killed.

Tsui Hark handles the first third of the film in which he must deal with lots of exposition in an interesting way. Still, there are some stunning setpieces for him to play with, such as the heist itself and a gripping highway sequence in which Sam, held at gunpoint by Wen, suddenly floors his car through speeding traffic in a suicidal fit of anger. Hark also gets a lot of mileage out of those bad Brothers as they terrorize the cowering Fei and have a cool brawling run-in with Wen. The errant cop's illicit meetings with Ling are tinged with guilt, tension, and her own madness.

The next segment takes place almost entirely in an empty warehouse where a handcuffed Wen watches as Sam and Ling reconcile on the middle ground of their respective delusions. Ling, now wearing the gold-bedecked vest, sees her husband as the man she once fell in love with, while Sam sees her as the dead May. They dance together in their own ghostly, haunted world. Ringo Lam uses the spacious interior well with lots of rectangular compositions that stretch into the darkness. This strange reverie is broken when Mok and Fei arrive on the scene, accusations of betrayal are exchanged, and Wen escapes with the vest, running Ling down with his car. The three men and the injured Ling give chase.

The rest of the film belongs to Johnnie To, who likes to pit opposing groups of people against each other in unlikely locations and then unleash his cinematic muse. In this case our heroes overtake Wen in an isolated open-air cafe' next to a vast field of tall grass, where a furious battle for the vest ensues between them, the Brothers, and a hapless traffic cop who's stumbled into the fray. Possession of the treasure goes back and forth in a tense stand-off inside the cafe' before the ensuing gun battle spills out into the field, with To leading the viewer on what is traditionally known as "a merry chase."

Despite the tension, the entire sequence is embued with a wry sense of humor that almost borders on slapstick---we're even treated to the old comedy routine of the lights being flicked on and off during a fight. The sight of good guys and bad guys blasting away at each other while lurching around in tall grass like nearsighted raptors is also somewhat comical. Director To manages to keep things real enough, however, that when the segment's finishing touches fall into place it evokes a satisfying sense of irony and catharsis.

The DVD from Magnolia is 2.35:1 widescreen with original Cantonese and an English dub in both 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital sound. English and Spanish subtitles are available. Bonus features consist of a brief making-of featurette and a 13-minute informal look at the filming of some of the climactic scenes.

TRIANGLE is such an intriguing collaboration between these three famous directors that one can easily forgive the fact that it isn't the most exciting or challenging Hong Kong action film ever made. As a creative exercise with a good story and an excellent cast, it succeeds in being fun, entertaining, and maybe even a little uplifting, and it's done with three kinds of style.

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