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(left) Kelly Lin, Simon Yam, and Louis Koo, and (right) Sun Honglei in Triangle.
Chinese: 鐵三角
Year: 2007  
Director: Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam Ling-Tung, Johnnie To Kei-Fung
  Producer: Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam Ling-Tung, Johnnie To Kei-Fung
  Writer: Half Leisure, Sharon Chung, Kenny Kan, Yau Nai-Hoi, Au Kin-Yee, Yip Tin-Shing

Simon Yam Tat-Wah, Louis Koo Tin-Lok, Sun Hong-Lei, Kelly Lin, Gordon Lam Ka-Tung, Lam Suet, You Yong

The Skinny: Messy and magnificent - if you're a massive Milkyway Image fanboy. If not, Triangle's self-indulgence, disconnected narrative, and inconsistent characters render it little more than a fascinating curiosity. An interesting experiment, and a must for die-hard Hong Kong Cinema fans. However, for everyone else this is a questionable success.
by Kozo:

Those crazy directors - always screwing with us. You know how it is: you go to the cinema thinking that you're going to be watching a film about something. It could be about a criminal investigation, a struggling single mother, a trio of kick-ass cops, or maybe a couple of girls who aren't twins. It doesn't matter what the actual subject matter is, but the film moves forward, seemingly developing its story, idea, theme, or maybe just its emotions, all of which should supposedly connect to an audience. But then it happens: the film suddenly becomes about something else. It stops being about the story or the characters or some overarching theme; with a couple of knowing plot twists or an obvious use of technique, the film becomes about some guy who yells "action" and "cut", who you can't see onscreen and yet pulls all the strings. The film is no longer about what happens; it's about what that guy will do. That crazy director.

Welcome to the world of Triangle, a "relay film" that takes three very good directors, a group of interesting actors, a loaded premise, and then proceeds to go pretty much nowhere in a messy, inconsistent manner. Produced by Johnnie To's Milkyway Image production company, Triangle unites directors Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam, and Johnnie To to tell the tale of a heist gone wrong, which the directors develop by following up on each other's leftovers. Basically, one director leads off, starting all the elements and subplots, whereupon another director takes over, developing the same elements in his own chosen manner. Then, one last guy comes in and bats clean-up. Tsui Hark is the leadoff batter, introducing the audience to Sam (Simon Yam), a harried fellow who's being pressured into taking on a getaway driver role in a proposed jewelry store robbery. The one pressuring him is supposed pal Fai (Louis Koo), who sweats like a madman about the situation because a trio of surly triad enforcers are after him for some dough, and Sam's role in the robbery is a large part of their deal.

Sam is reluctant, however, and his drinking buddy Mok (Sung Hong-Lei) advises him to stay away from Fai's get-rich-through-crime scheme. But even Mok isn't averse to a different sort of heist. The three meet a mysterious stranger who gives them a genuine gold coin and clues to a possible buried treasure, located in Hong Kong's Legislative Council building. All three need the dough (Fai and Sam are destitute, while Mok's antique store is being foreclosed), so they endeavor to steal the treasure together. The problems: the roving triads after Fai, Sam's unstable wife Ling (Kelly Lin), and dirty cop Wen (Gordon Lam), who also happens to be sleeping with Ling and is involved in some shady, threatening relationship with Fai. In this opening segment, Tsui Hark introduces the elements deftly and efficiently, easily drawing the audience into the story. There's some potent stuff introduced, as well as some rather silly developments, but Tsui struts his stuff effectively, starting the Triangle ride with both style and verve.

Ringo Lam picks up where Tsui Hark leaves off, and puts his own spin on things, introducing emotional complexity, and some unexpected, even bizarre twists. His ideas don't fully pay off, however, and Triangle stumbles heavily as it simply stops making sense. Narrative leaps occur, eliciting possible exclamations of "What the hell?", and the film starts to become experimental in a bewildering fashion. Lam gives both Fai and Mok short shrift, and instead concentrates heavily on the relationship between Sam and Ling. In Tsui's segment, the possibility is raised that Sam may be trying to slowly murder Ling, and Lam's segment seems to explore that subplot more deeply. However, Lam doesn't provide any answers, and his characters ultimately come off as senseless. Sam is more calculating and even menacing than his initial meek character seemed to indicate, and Ling goes from unstable and paranoid to greedy and opportunistic. Both characters seem to change drastically, indicating that Lam either radically interpreted Tsui's intentions, or simply ignored them for his own perceived notions of where the film should go. Regardless of whether or not his intentions were justified, the results aren't as inspiring as they are simply puzzling. In its second segment, Triangle sags.

Luckily, Johnnie To bats clean-up, saving the day in his own inimitable style. That style, however, is achieved by largely ignoring what came before, changing characters and situations to serve up a vintage sampler platter of Johnnie To's ironic absurdities and thinly-veiled Buddhist themes. There's some cool stuff going on in To's segment, including an amusing restaurant-set standoff and subsequent shootout that takes a sitcom-style setup and turns it into cinema gold. To stages a drawn-out mix-em-up involving similar-looking bags and a mismatched grouping of characters, who all coincidentally show up in the same place at the same time to get involved in To's darkly funny criminal wackiness. There's style and panache on display, and To gets effective performances from Lam Suet, You Yong, and Sun Hong-Lei to bring the film to its final, self-amused parting shot. When Triangle ends, the feeling is one of cinematic bemusement. Yeah, it was a bit odd and even scattershot, but it was also rather fun.

But was it fun for the right reasons? Probably not, as Triangle isn't really a film, but an experiment in auteur excess that only works if someone is familiar with not only the Milkyway house style, but also the "relay film" concept. Generally, the idea is that each director is supposed to continue what came before, but as the film progresses, each director actually seems to ignore the preceding director's' work rather than follow up on it. Subplots get dropped, situations go from realistic to ridiculous, and characters change drastically. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the character of Ling and her relationship with Sam. Each director seems to be exploring a different idea of the struggle between marital affection and distrust, and their viewpoints differ sharply. Kelly Lin's Ling is the most problematic, as her character seems to possess multiple clichéd personalities, becoming a potentially revealing insight into each director's views and/or prejudices. Someone could easily dissect each director's handling of her character and come up with some idea of how each views women. Feminist film theorists: this is a job for you.

But most people aren't feminist film theorists, and they're not card-carrying Hong Kong Cinema fanboys either. For casual viewers, Triangle feels like an obvious misfire as it doesn't do what a film is generally expected to do, i.e. take a defined set of characters and situations and develop them in a compelling, consistent manner. This is not a movie for casual audiences because it doesn't provide what mass audiences perceive as entertaining or necessary. The film's suspense doesn't arise from situations or characters, but from the question of what each director will pull out of their ass next. That's hardly the usual definition of a successful work, though many inclined audiences will likely forgive these guys anyway. Triangle fails as a standard film, but succeeds as a self-indulgent cinema experiment showcasing the exciting choices and curious missteps perpetrated by three damn fine directors - most especially Johnnie To, whose relevance on the Hong Kong Cinema scene has now eclipsed former local kingpins Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam. Fans of To are sure to go gaga over this collection of Milkyway players and themes, and the crime film iconography and To's sharp sense of irony are as entertaining and enthralling as ever.

Triangle obviously caters to Milkyway fanboys - a smart marketing move, because for casual audiences, the film will probably not fly, rendering the film an interesting if not infuriating curiosity. It's a shame that Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam, and Johnnie To couldn't actually take the "relay film" premise and create a solid, consistent film instead of simply choosing to each go their own way. Had they managed to pull of something that cohered into a single effective work, then the film could have been a true accomplishment instead of a messy and uneven exercise in entertaining self-indulgence. As it is, Triangle is simply a fun and very flawed in-joke for the Asia-centered cineaste, and a fanboy high-five from three crazy directors who know their stuff. Thanks a lot, guys. Now go and make your own movies again. (Kozo 2007)



DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
2-Disc Special Edition
Media Asia
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS ES
Removable English and Chinese subtitles
Various Extras

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