Director: Jesse V. Johnson
Writer: Joey O’Bryan (screenplay), Fangjin Song, Jian Huang, Sheldon Pang, Lei Yan
Starring: Tony Jaa, Tiger Chen, Iko Uwais, Celina Jade, Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White, Michael Bisping, Jeeja Yanin
Review by Michael Walls-Kelly
You left me for dead twice. It will not happen again.
For the last decade or so some of the best action movies have been DTV or VOD releases. This isn’t a surprise. With Hollywood’s continuing insistence on 40+ minute stretches of pure CGI anarchy, it’s no wonder people had to go elsewhere to show people punching each other with a steady camera and clear cuts. Luckily some amazing, mainstream action movies will still break through — John Wick, Mad Max: Fury Road, the Mission: Impossible films — but the true heads need to search for the best.
Triple Threat is absolutely a worthy entry in any Best of DTV section. The director, Jesse V. Johnson, started as a stuntman and stunt coordinator on big budget films before directing some impressive low-budget films like Savage Dog, Green Street Hooligans 2 and Accident Man. He’s a perfectly capable hand to guide something like this. I wouldn’t put him on the level of John Hyams (Universal Soldier: Regeneration, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning) or Isaac Florentine (Ninja: Shadow of a Tear, Acts of Vengeance, Boyka: Undisputed), but he’s an easy contender for my third favourite DTV director.
The story is a simple one that seems a little more complicated than it actually is. A group of commandos storm a village in Thailand. Two of the group members are Payu (Tony Jaa) and Long Fei (Tiger Chen) who have no idea that the rest of the group (Michael Jai White, Michael Bisping, Jeejan Yanin) are really rescuing their leader, Collins (Scott Adkins). They also manage to kill most of the village, including the wife of Jaka (Iko Uwais), who vows revenge.
Luckily our three main characters know some different and cool fighting styles. Jaka is an expert in Silat, Long Fei knows Kung Fu and Tony Jaa knows Muay Thai. Once they show off their styles a bit and commiserate with each other, we’re introduced to the slightly more rote plotline that brings all our players together. Tian Xiao Xian (Celina Jade) wants to eliminate corruption, and Su Feng (Monica Siu-Kei Mok) is very corrupt, so she hires Collins and his team to knock her off. Other than that there are some intricacies about the titular “triple threat” getting together, some triple crossing and a few set pieces. It’s a fairly standard DTV story at a very welcome 96 minutes.
As a huge fan of The Raid films, the Ong-Bak films, and Man from Tai Chi I couldn’t have been more excited to see these action move gods come together. Chen and Jaa are the soldiers of fortune who go back a long way, so we spend more time with them together alone. They’re really good together! Sometimes you feel like leads sharing the spotlight will compete with the same character, but they both easily slot into Chen as the more sensitive lead and Jaa as the goofier one with a sketchier past. Uwais works really well with them too, but due to the nature of the story, he spends more time on his own. Frankly, I’m fine with this. Uwais is a megastar, and I’m just waiting for North America to catch up.
The villains are a cool mix. Unfortunately, Chocolate‘s Jeeja Yanin doesn’t last long, but the main crew has an impressive pedigree. Michael Jai White should be on the DTV Mount Rushmore, as far as I’m concerned, and Scott Adkins is the current Tom Cruise of action movies you happen to notice on iTunes. Adkins does some great work here. His best role is Boyka from the Undisputed series, but in this he gets to use his regular accent, use some humour, and he channels some legitimate darkness.
Michael Bisping is fine as a presence, and I enjoyed him in XXX: Return of Xander Cage, but he’s still a little stiff during the actual fight choreography. White is my favourite DTV performer, so I was always going to be disappointed with the amount of screentime he got. The fact that I was like “yeah, that’s fair” during his curtain call speaks volumes.
The action is clear and interesting. The different style mixes of the performers is a plus. Even though there are three “main” characters, they all get different aspects of the story that would have just been relegated to a single person in any other film. A different person is the main romantic lead, has a tragic revenge story and has a secretly brutal backstory. They all pull them off with aplomb. Another plus is that them speaking English works storywise. Uwais, Chen, and Jaa all naturally speak different languages, so it makes sense that they’d revert to English while communicating. It feels natural, and I’ll give it points for that.
Verdict: Watch this! The DTV/VOD market is a treasure trove of action icons combining to make infinitely enjoyable films but rarely has there been a lineup like this. If Iko Uwais, Tiger Chen and Tony Jaa were around in the ’80s, they’d be household names like Schwarzenegger and Van Damme. This movie has it all: a man seeks revenge, people cook while talking about their history, two characters throw their guns away to fight hand-to-hand. It definitely isn’t the best DTV/VOD film I’ve ever seen, but it had clear and interesting fight scenes and solid acting. Hopefully, there will be a Qaudruple Threat.