A group of terrorists face off against three very pissed-off martial artists in Jesse V Johnson’s action thriller.
“Who are these fuckin’ bush babies you hired anyway?”
“Just local trackers from one of the villages.”
“From like a village of fuckin’ ninja warrior land? Jesus Christ!”
Sometimes story just sort of gets in the way, like a mobile game with far too many cutscenes. The 2019 Thai-Chinese-American coproduction Triple Threat seems to have understood this, and leans into it hard as it’s come out as one of the films with the most enjoyable lack of story I’ve seen in recent years. For what it’s worth, it deals with three men who are screwed over by a recently-freed terrorist and his group who want to kill a philanthropist after she promises to give money to help the city of Maha Jaya. And that’s it. Hey, that’s refreshingly simple!
In a lot of ways, Triple Threat works like something of a martial arts Expendables, with only a few key figures missing. The titular threat is comprised of Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais and Tiger Chen who work excellently off one another. We also get performances from martial artists and MMA fighters from around the world, including Michael Jai White and Scott Adkins. The result is a really fun blend of different styles which all get a chance to shine and face off against each other.
I’m reminded a lot of the Tekken series of video games, where the story doesn’t really matter – it’s the one-on-ones that do. And when every main character fights in a different way, and each battle is located in its own little arena, you’re definitely going to get moments where you think you’re watching someone play a beat-em-up – but that’s not a bad thing. Everyone is immensely talented in the field of kicking ass and that they get a chance to showcase it in well-shot and logically-made fight scenes proves an understanding of why we’re here that a surprising amount of films in its vein lack.
So it is a bit of a shame that so much of the runtime is dedicated to gunfights. It’s true that the story is sort of built around shootouts, and they’re sort of inevitable in these big terrorist group movies but everyone who put this film on wants to see the titular trio flip around and kick people in the neck. Thankfully there’s plenty of that to go around, so you don’t need to care how well they can aim a gun.
Now I don’t want to say anything about the main cast as actors as they’ve all proven themselves time and again both as action stars and emotional leads but the English-language stuff is a bit stilted, although some of it can be chalked up to corny dialogue that only works if you’re really willing to chew the scenery. Both Adkins and White fare a bit better, with some of the dumbest lines on the film. At one point, Adkins’ Collins character angrily screams “Why is it so hard to kill one little Chinese girl?!”, and manages to play it both totally straight and with a hint of satire. To put it simply, the calibre of vocal performances is what you’d expect from the genre.
It’s a good job then that we’re not forcing Uwais and Jaa to recite Shakespeare, but relying instead on their affable expressions, loveable personalities and their chemistry with the rest of the leads, including Chen and lead actress Celina Jade, who TV audiences will know from the CW’s Arrow (along with White, now that I think about it). As far as so-serious-it’s-goofy martial arts dramas go, Triple Threat is a fine example of the genre. I’d love to see this cast get back together and make another film, one with maybe a little more substance this time around.
Verdict: High in thrills but low on plot, Triple Threat never pretends to be anything else, and is highly entertaining for it.
Overall entertainment: 7.5/10
Martial arts styles: Lots!
Plot: Close to none
Jaka: Set up the station ambush, sure, but that means he got a bunch of cops killed
Tiny Asian Guy vs Massive White Dude: Basically a trope at this point, no?
Triple Threat (2019)
English, Mandarin, Thai
Director: Jesse V Johnson
Writers: Joey O’Bryan, Paul Staheli
Tony Jaa – Payu
Iko Uwais – Jaka
Tiger Chen – Long Fei
Scott Adkins – Collins
Michael Jai White – Devereaux
Michael Bisping – Joey
Celina Jade – Tian Xiao Xian
Jeeja Yanin – Mook
Ron Smoorenburg – Steiner
Dominique Vandenberg – Dom
Sile Zhang – Jaka’s wife
Jennifer Qi Jun Yang – Madame Liang
Monica Mok – Su Feng
Selina Lo – News Reporter Fei Chen