Collaboration films are always a mixed bag. Some are better mixed bags than others, a la Paris Je T'aime and Three Extremes, while others can be downright disappointing. Triangle happens to be one of the substandard ones, bringing together revered action/drama director Johnnie To with a pair of other recognized Chinese filmmakers, Ringo Lam and Tsui Hark, into an active yet indistinctive entry into the Hong Kong action genre. This screams "interesting experiment" with appealing potential underneath its adrenaline, but the results are less than compelling. It actually shares a lot in common with a game of Telephone -- you know, where you tell a story between individuals down a long stretch of people, only to show that the blabbered tale at the end is, rarely, anything like the way it began.
Triangle mixes together a Heat-like narrative with familiar HK-style panache and a dash of ancient history lying underneath its momentum. Three men -- gangster wannabe Fei (Louis Koo), his fidgety married friend Sam (Simon Yam), and antique dealer Mok (Sun Hong Lei) -- are all "hard-pressed" for cash. Because of this, Fei persuades Sam to consider driving a getaway car for a heist, which ultimately lands Fei in trouble with the Triad group that tried to organize the operation when Sam backs down. Luckily, a mysterious map is dropped at the feet of our three guys that promises their wealth issues will be answered at the end, only it involves a little mischievous elbow grease and a relative comfort in opening an age-old coffin.
Seven Swords' director Tsui Hark, the originator of this whole project, juggles a myriad of elements in Triangle's first portion. Along with the slightly convoluted story arc at the forefront, we're also dealing with Sam's wife cheating on him with a police officer -- as well as Sam's odd giving of little white pills to his wife. It starts the narrative off jumbled and disjointed, though the underlying story about the second heist retains its intrigue. However, this isn't the punch forward that the three directors would want for this creative flick. Tsui Hark starts the characters out in an ambitiously frantic fashion that doesn't hold up from segment to segment, though they're handled in a cold and lively fashion that's almost gripping enough to hold out interest across a soggy midriff.
Ultimately, only the simple, core plot device revolving around the treasure they've discovered carries us onward. Once Triangle shifts over into the hands of Ringo Lam, the director responsible for Vanne Damme vehicles Replicant and In Hell, it grows indistinct and unmemorable for a wide patch in the center. He goes in a different tangent, eventually bringing the extramarital affair to explode in front of Sam -- and the director rearranges character causality and demeanor between the first and second portions. Though we've continued with some of the same tension regarding the central heist plot from the beginning, it all boils to a head in a bizarre confrontation between Sam, his wife, and the cop that puts the film at an odd standstill.
Thankfully, Johnnie To will swoop in to try and make the most of Triangle's conclusion -- well, somewhat. He scrambles to piece everything together into an entertaining climax, and his competence in the genre shows naturally amid an array of loopy film-making fireworks. You'll notice that the performances improve and the film's demeanor grows quirkier, which reflects a bit on the Election and Exiled director's aesthetic. We're treated to a wide-shot shootout in the dark and a scramble of heroism from Sam, but it's all crippled -- horribly, almost unforgivingly so -- by an overwhelmingly cliché plot device involving "the ole' unintended switcharoo". Along with that, Johnnie To tosses in a cluster of new characters (including a very strange dancing, shaking-head tire salesman) that simply don't mesh with the tone of the flick.
The difference in directors exposes a lot of faults in this unnecessarily complex picture, especially in the performances -- namely in the ever-changing Louis Koo, recently memorable and perfectly picked for Derek Yee's Protege. He shapes up a bit underneath To's controlling hand, yet he's all over the place with the other two. Since he's an integral element, especially as his association with the Triad gets him in deeper trouble, he heftily weakens the entire framework by his brashness. Simon Yam fares the best out of the lot, tackling his character's differences between scripting with as much control as possible. Thankfully, each of the directors have retained long-running cinematographer Cheng Siu Keung for their individual segments, which at least keeps the film visually uniform. As drama, it's less than convincing; however, Triangle does offer a few HK-style car chases, hand-to-hand throwdowns, and a blinding pace befitting the genre, yet its odd character shifts and a lack of coherence cripples the stream of style to little more than check-your-brain-at-the-door noise.
Video and Audio:
In comparison to other renderings of Johnnie To's films, Triangle doesn't look too bad in its 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image. For some reason, low-ball cinematography from these crank-'em-out HK flicks often looks flat in DVD renditions. Here, we've got a few strong instances of dimensionality and detail, along with a few shades of solid color that ink through the image. Color timing is, however, expectedly a little drab as a whole, while darker sequences showcase heavy, fluctuating grain and some reddish tones. Still, it's a relatively stable transfer from Magnolia that carries plenty of attractive attitudes.
Audio is available in several different options -- both Cantonese 5.1 and 2.0 tracks, as well as English Dub 5.1 and 2.0 options. Though the disc defaults to the English DUB, the originaltrack was selected -- and it sounds pretty good. Verbal dialogue carries a natural tone, while surround elements stretch occasionally to the rears for a bit of ambiance. Some activity travels to the lower-frequency channels during a few louder sequences, but most of the sound stays on mid-to-higher range levels. The synth-heavy score helps to fuel the film's attitude alone well, though it stands out a bit more than we'd probably like. English subtitles are available, which are generally very good and -- without question -- quite different from the English DUB. English and Spanish optional subtitles are available.
For supplemental material, we've got a disposable Making of Triangle (6:15, 4x3) feature that blends surface-level interviews with snippets of behind-the-scenes shots, as well as a stream of raw Behind-the-Scenes (13:31, 4x3) footage. The footage isn't half bad, though the lack of editing in these types of pieces make them go a bit slower than cherry-picked shots.
Though a fan of Johnnie To's work, namely Exiled and PTU along with waves of Election, his collaborative work with Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam in Triangle left me cold and uninterested. Though it has a few appealing action beats and reliable actors give it marginal gravitas, the picture's rhythm remains bumpy and dissatisfying because of its drastic shift in directorial attitude. Instead of trying to keep it segmented a la Three Extremes or similar segmented pictures, it tries unsuccessfully to attempt at a baton-passing of a story -- and it just doesn't work. Give it a Rental for the scattering of action and for Simon Yam's persistently strong ability, but expect layers of dissatisfaction draped over a few engaging sprinkles of adrenaline-spiked attitude.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site