TRIPLE THREAT: Cannon Films Meets Shaw Brothers in Action Icon Battle Royale

Jesse V. Johnson’s biggest film yet

When a bunch of camouflaged commandos are traipsing around a jungle and blowing up huts in an action movie, Cannon Films instantly spring to mind. And when the runtime of a film is largely comprised of every single character squaring off with every other character in highly choreographed kung fu battles, Shaw Brothers films come to mind. Triple Threat marries these two action film approaches and stacks the deck with top tier international action stars from around the globe and creates a piece of absolute destination entertainment for action fans the world over.

Stunt professional turned writer/director Jesse V. Johnson has been on a bit of a tear recently, collaborating with star Scott Adkins on 4 films in the past 3 years (and a 5th on the way). In each film Johnson has honed and refined different areas to increase his skill set as a filmmaker, and Triple Threat is by far his most ambitious endeavor to date. Placing Adkins squarely in the villainous heavy role was a smart move as this switched up the formula from the past director/star pairings, and allowed Adkins to shine in a role different from that which he often plays. It also allowed international super stars Iko Uwais, Tony Jaa, and Tiger Chen to take center stage and expose them to a more worldwide market.

These titular triple threats have all proven themselves to be stars in their own right both in films from their own respective countries and in crossover US releases. Jaa, hailing from Thailand, has perhaps had the longest running career of our heroes as he broke out with Ong-Bak in 2003 and has since parlayed that success into dozens of roles including being a part of the Fast/Furious franchise! Chen, hailing from China, made a name for himself in stunt and fight work, catching the eye of Keanu Reeves on the Matrix films and starring in Reeves’ Man Of Tai Chi in 2013. Uwais, hailing from Indonesia, exploded onto the scene with The Raid in 2011 and has since gone on to appear in Star Wars: The Force Awakens among many other successful projects. Also joining the cast of Triple Threat are Thai female phenom Jeeja Yanin, legendary American action star Michael Jai White, British UFC fighter Michael Bisping, and prolific Hong Kong star Michael Wong. So there’s clearly an Expendables/Avengers type of appeal here that gets folks like me extremely hyped and making it quite the event film for anyone who considers any of these talents household names.

Does it live up to the hype? Well, considering I let myself get hyped beyond all reason, I have to say that Triple Threat likely isn’t going to be my favorite action film of the year and as such, I personally come away a tinge disappointed. I’ll get into those details shortly. But my own personal hype dysphoria aside, Triple Threat definitely lives up to what it promised and far exceeds the quality of action found in the Expendables films or in the recent similarly-positioned lower tier Expendables riff Showdown In Manila.

Plot-wise, White, Bisping, Yanin, and some other merc types recruit Chen and Jaa for the aforementioned camouflage jungle mission. They’re looking to free Scott Adkins’ Collins from captivity, and after lying to Chen and Jaa about this being a rescue mission, they leave Chen and Jaa for dead. But not before they kill Uwais’ wife and also leave HIM for dead. Soon Uwais tracks down Chen and Jaa for vengeance and ultimately when the truth is revealed, our uneasy trio is formed. It’s going to be Collins’ band of mercenaries battling it out with our threatening trio and at some point the plot will ensure that just about every star you want to see engaging in fisticuffs with another star will happen. Again, making Adkins the ultimate heavy means he gets to fight just about everyone, which is very fun for this Adkins fan.

The best elements of Triple Threat are the elements you’re coming here to see. Fight choreographer extraordinaire Tim Man had an enormous task at hand combining the various styles of these action stars and squaring them off against one another repeatedly. Each fight is well captured by Johnson and his eye for action. Every single star gets a moment to shine. Their primary physical talents are showcased well here, and the brief film wastes little time on anything that isn’t punches, kicks, or explosions. (Mind you, I consider this a primary strength of Triple Threat). This is exactly what sets Triple Threat apart from the Expendables films, which, try as they might, never QUITE delivered top tier action… they simply showed us top tier talent.

What I did find to be problematic is that Triple Threat never really becomes anything more than the sum of its parts. There are a lot of ingredients to balance, and it does so admirably. But the end result doesn’t transcend the recipe. Scott Adkins is a fantastic heavy for everyone to fight, but Collins’ plan and motivations as a villain are non-existent. He’s badass, but he doesn’t seem like a very good mercenary. In order for the plot to move forward he and his team just kind of keep losing men and losing battles until they ultimately lose the war. I like villains more when they seem to be winning and/or a step ahead of our heroes. And several of our heroes do not speak English as their primary language and struggle to convince the audience in this English language film. This is nothing new in action cinema, but it’s more noticeable here with so many characters having the same struggle. I wouldn’t care at all about this except that it yields some fairly wooden performances from actors we know to be quite dynamic and charismatic when they have the confidence of their own language to work with. The large cast (which is why we’re here in the first place) also ensures that while everyone gets a moment or two, no one really gets any depth to work with. Tiger Chen’s character has almost no identifying traits except perhaps he’s the most resistant to violence. Uwais’ character is just “revenge guy”. And so on.

What’s nice about these issues I’m listing is that they are all elements that probably feel like shortcomings, but ultimately result in a film with very little fat and a streamlined runtime that I believe clocks in at under 90 minutes. Triple Threat most definitely delivers on its premise, and is a breezy and enjoyable ride. I genuinely love the talent collected here both in front of the camera and behind. And you can’t get this anywhere else! Triple Threat brings superstars together from entirely different countries/regions/markets and I think it has the potential to be a huge hit in all of those areas around the globe. That it delivers quality action and champions its primary stars’ talent sets will hopefully expose Jaa and Yanin’s Thai fans, for instance, to the stars from other countries, and vice versa.

I believe we’re living in a new golden age of quality action cinema; it’s just that the US market isn’t recognizing this stuff and rewarding it wide theatrical releases. That said, action cinema is still blowing up box offices in places like Thailand and Hong Kong, and crossover films like Triple Threat are a great calling card for what modern action masters can bring to the big screen for a fraction of the budget of what Marvel can. Director Jesse V. Johnson, choreographer Tim Man, and all the stars of Triple Threat are truly showcasing their amazing skill sets in this movie and it’s a pure joy to see them all kicking ass together on the same screen.

And I’m Out.

Triple Threat will have a one night only wide release Tuesday, March 19th, and will then hit select theaters and VOD on Friday, March 22nd.

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