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Three of a Kind
"Aren't you that guy from 'La Brassiere?'"

Lau Ching-Wan, Michael Hui and Miriam Yeung
Chinese: 煎釀三寶  
Year: 2004  
Director: Joe Ma Wai-Ho  
Producer: Joe Ma Wai-Ho  
Writer: Joe Ma Wai-Ho, Matthew Chow Hoi-Kwong, Sunny Chan, Lung Man-Hong
Cast: Michael Hui Koon-Man, Miriam Yeung Chin-Wah, Lau Ching-Wan, Elaine Kam Yin-Ling, Hui Siu-Hung, Lo Meng, Tiffany Lee Lung-Yi, Crystal Tin Yui-Lei, Hiro Hayama, Monica Lo Suk-Yi, Yuan Yuan, Jin Song, Harriet Yeung Sze-Man
The Skinny: The triumvirate of Michael Hui, Miriam Yeung and Lau Ching-Wan keeps this plodding comedy afloat...almost. The inspired casting gives wings to director Joe Ma's comedy, but the uneven and somewhat interminable screenplay threatens to ground it.
by Kozo:

Director Joe Ma assembles an impressive cast for his comedy Three of a Kind. Not only does he corral former king of comedy Michael Hui into a starring role (Hui had a cameo in this year's blockbuster Fantasia), but Ma also enlists the services of the dependable Lau Ching-Wan and the consistent, though sometimes overbearing Miriam Yeung. The result: some fine comic performances and a film that nearly soars based on its lead actors' chemistry alone. Sadly, the rest of Three of a Kind isn't so spectacular, and is more notable for its lack of cohesion and overstuffed, plodding storyline than anything else. Joe Ma finds the occasional engaging moment, and the stars do their best to make the whole shebang work. But when Three of a Kind ends, it's an event that was long awaited.

Michael Hui stars as famous wuxia novelist Dragon Lone, a popular figure whose career has been stalled by a thirteen-year bout of writer's block. Regardless, Lone has numerous fans and followers, the latter of which can sometimes be stalker-like in their fervent, sweaty devotion. Lone also has a daughter, the charming and filial Sophia (a purple-haired Miriam Yeung), who works for famous interior designer Frankie (Lau Ching Wan) and still resides with single dad Lone. Director-writer Joe Ma wastes no time in setting up his characters egregiously overdrawn issues. Lone has a complicated history having to do with his dad (Lo Meng), who never wanted his son to fight—ergo he became a writer of martial arts novels. Lone also wants his daughter to stay his daughter forever, and is leery of her finding a guy of her own. When Frankie shows up at Lone and Sophia's house to stay (his house has burnt down), you can expect sparks to fly.

Which they do, though with off-and-on frequency. Right away Lone tortures his new houseguest, but Frankie is quick to demonstrate his innocence in all matters concerning Sophia. Frankie demonstrates that he's a major player, so he can't really be interested in Sophia. And that's true...for the first half hour, maybe. Eventually Frankie undergoes one of those life-changing mid-life crises, which shows up almost out of nowhere to plague the avowed ladies man. Meanwhile, Sophia's feelings are undetermined, though Miriam Yeung makes them obvious with every sidelong glance and subtle smile. Lone is too busy to notice his own daughter's obvious pining, and has his own minor relationship issues (with Elaine Kam, sporting unflattering purple-highlighted hair) to bother him, plus his continuing writer's block. When a possible relationship between Frankie and Sophia is broached, you can expect Dad to go off the deep end, right?

Well yeah, though once again the frequency is off-and-on. Joe Ma and his consortium of screenwriters (including frequent collaborator Matt Chow) set up pretty solid conflicts, but bury them beneath lots of back-and-forth shtick and pontificating on the perils of modern-day relationships. The writers particularly go overboard with one major metaphor comparing life partners to cell phones, a somewhat witty gag that's amusing the first time, but loses its humor value when its invoked for the umpteenth time. The metaphor serves the same purpose that it does in every Joe Ma movie, meaning that it cuts straight to the core of whatever postmodern crises his characters are facing. Well, it worked in Feel 100%, but it doesn't seem to work here. Ma lingers for too long on certain character issues, which ultimately renders the film somewhat of a plodding comedy spectacle. Stuff happens, but not very quickly.

Basically, the characters of Three of a Kind must learn to move on with their lives and recognize the feelings of those close to them, though the roundabout and sometimes tiresome way the characters discover this could tax the patience of Mother Teresa, let alone your average ADD-addled moviegoer. In addition to the family comedy, there are numerous outside gags relating to Lone's celebrity, including wacky stalkers and some fantasy weirdness where Lone begins imagining everyone around him as wuxia heroes. Again, the asides are amusing, but they also stretch on for eternity. Crosscutting and parallel storytelling is supposed to be economical, but Joe Ma uses the film techniques in jarring and annoyingly time-extending ways. Sometimes it's better to just tell a joke and move on. The way Ma returns to his comedy, you'd think he were referencing some classic comedy goldmine and not something that happened only five minutes ago.

But—and this is a big "but"—the actors go the extra mile to make Three of a Kind entertaining, and even winning stuff. Michael Hui's comic timing and innate humanity make him a lovable, though decidedly strange father figure, and Lau Ching-Wan is able to bring charisma and even subtle integrity to his stock character of a womanizer who decides he wants to settle down. In a more surprising and welcome development, Miriam Yeung tones down the mouthy, wacky act that has been her usual screen persona, and instead plays an intelligent, lovable girl who's well worth rooting for. In the hands of these actors, the characters' emotional trials sometimes take on believable and even affecting life. The affecting stuff is buried beneath lots of screwy silliness, but Joe Ma does reveal some of his strengths at the film's core. Since even before his Feel 100% days, Ma has had a better-than-average handle on the slippery, quirky charms of love and affection, and there are occasional moments in Three of a Kind where that shines through. You have the survive the film's epic roundabout storyline and sometimes interminable pacing, but deep down, it's there. Somewhere. (Kozo 2004)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Panorama Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Trailers, "Making of" featurette

image courtesy of Panorama Entertainment

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