Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Scott Adkins and Michael Jai White bust heads in a thrilling, but overstuffed action thriller.
Since kicking his way into the American mainstream back in 2003, Tony Jaa has been the herald for the return of the martial arts movie. The Ong-Bak trilogy has set the path for the Raid series, the Ip Man quadrilogy, and the massively creative fights in Upgrade. After more than a decade of changing the game in their own ways, it only makes sense to combine the Thai and Indonesian kings of martial arts into their own vehicle.
The film’s titular Triple Threat come together during a “humanitarian mission” gone very wrong. Payu (Tony Jaa) and Long Fei (Tiger Hu Chen) unknowingly lead a group of assassins (including the effortlessly badass Michael Jai White) into an MI6 black site to rescue the assassin’s boss, Collins (Scott Adkins). During the mission, security soldier Jaka (Iko Uwais) loses his wife in the firefight. The assassins leave Payu and Long Fei for dead and create a trio of men with all the fuel they need for a butt-kicking pile of revenge. It gets all the more complicated when they find the assassins’ primary target is Xian (Celina Jade), a wealthy heiress who plans to use her vast wealth to end crime via ending poverty.
For the most part, the ensemble really nails their action movie archetypes and gives that little extra to make so many of these good guys and baddies very engaging. The chemistry between Jaa and Chen is downright infectious. When Jade is added to the mix, the two stars adapt effortlessly to the new dynamic. It is refreshing to skip the whole belittle-the-new-girl trope and just have Xian an immediate member of the battle crew. Jaa even gets a few minutes to show off his comedic chops, pretending to be a chef in the midst of all the chaos. The moment is so charming that it’s enough to hope for a “Chef Jaa” movie in the near future. White, on the other hand, oozes the perfect charisma of a trained psychopath, to the point where his Devereaux would have made for a scarier antagonist than Collins.
But let’s not fool ourselves here: this is a Tony Jaa movie, and the most obvious question for anyone interested in this flick would have to be “How are the fights?” Well… they are almost always creatively badass. Choreographed by stunt veteran Tim Man, the hand-to-hand battles give the cast so many moments to show off how ridiculously talented they are. There are a couple of repetitive moves (Jaa and Chen can only be body slammed so many times before it becomes expected), but they are overshadowed by Man’s well-designed flurry of multi-flip kicks and staccato-quick punches.
Sadly, the same cannot be said when guns become the focus of a fight. In this world, bullets have a real hatred for characters with no speaking lines. Don’t speak? That’s either a direct headshot or they become a model for the Discount House of Squibs. But the moment characters of any importance walk in front of a gun, no matter how close, they become impossible to hit. There is a moment during a plot shifting fight where Xien’s personal bodyguard Madame Liang (Jennifer Qi Jun Yang) is the last woman standing against the pack of baddies. A few stand in front of her, not an ounce of cover to be had, and its like she’s shooting over their heads on purpose. For all the hand-to-hand combat does to raise the adrenaline of the film, the gunplay sucks all the energy out of the room knowing that everyone we slightly know is going to be a-okay.
Sadly, those sorts of mistakes become a running theme in Triple Threat. As an action movie, it’s exciting and serviceable, but the film’s storytelling knocks itself down, decimated with a dozen little cuts. Stuntman-turned-director Jesse V. Johnson can film a fight with remarkable alacrity and excitement, but there are enough small moments of missed continuity or awkward editing that makes it tough to keep track of this fast-paced world.
The script (written by Joey O’Bryan, Fangjin Song, and Paul Staheli) doesn’t do the film any favors either, the trio puffing up the convoluted script with a bevy of unnecessary characters. For example, there is a bigger bad in the world Payu and Fei must contend with: a shady underworld gang leader, Su Feng (Monica Mok), who pays for the assassination of Xian for reasons that are never made clear. We never know why she wants Xian dead more than anyone else. It feels like they have a history, but it is never said. Quite literally, Su Feng’s presence onscreen changes nothing – which is nowhere near as bad as Jaka’s complete pointlessness. As wonderful an action star as Uwais is, his