“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

Triple Threat

TRIPLE THREAT is the long-awaited international co-production that teams Tony Jaa (ONG BAK, THE PROTECTOR, KILL ZONE 2), Iko Uwais (THE RAID, HEADSHOT, THE NIGHT COMES FOR US) and Tiger Chen (MAN OF TAI CHI, KUNG FU TRAVELER). That in itself is an event, but wait until I tell you who plays the villains. Directed by Jesse V. Johnson (THE BUTCHER, SAVAGE DOG), it’s not an envelope-pusher like some of the modern classics each of those three have under their belts, but it’s a solid action romp with tons of clearly shot fighting, taking advantage of all the possible match-ups and varying martial arts styles.

Jaa is first billed and shown first, but Uwais is the protagonist and the one with the best hair*. Jaa and Chen play mercenaries duped into a “humanitarian mission” that’s actually an attack on a village in which Uwais’ character’s (very briefly glimpsed) wife and friends are killed. Seeking revenge, he tracks the two to their day jobs as underground fighters… and gets beat up. But they recognize him from the village, explain themselves and become his on again, off again allies as he uses them to try to lure out the criminal syndicate responsible. Meanwhile those two try not to be killed by the gang for knowing too much, as well as to protect a Chinese heiress (Celina Jade, LEGENDARY ASSASSIN, SKIN TRADE, WOLF WARRIOR 2) they discover is being targeted by them.

Sounds kind of complicated, but mostly it just means they’re running around town ducking machine gun spray and doing flying kicks (and knees and elbows). The choreographer is Tim Man (NINJA II, BOYKA: UNDISPUTED, ELIMINATORS, ACTS OF VENGEANCE, ACCIDENT MAN, THE HARD WAY), who has them fighting in varied locations and damaging many different surroundings. I like when Chen bumps against a piano.

Even a movie with a great set of stars like this could be wrecked by a boring villain. I knew UNDISPUTED II co-stars Michael Jai White and Scott Adkins were gonna be in the movie, but I honestly didn’t expect them to be the lead villains and great characters in their own right. Adkins (in his fourth of five Johnson-directed movies since 2017) gets an “and” credit and a super villain entrance. He leads the team and, much like in ACCIDENT MAN and THE DEBT COLLECTOR, gets to do it with mean, sometimes humorous verbosity. As they keep getting attacked he complains that they’re in “fuckin ninja warrior land, jesus christ.”

White’s character is similarly hateful and even more arrogant. They belittle our heroes by calling them “small,” “little,” “village boy” and even “mouseketeers.” I love seeing both of those guys as heroes, but they’re also so good at playing assholes. (I guess in the UNDISPUTED series they sort of get to do both.) But they can and do back up their threats more than most bad guys.

Also on their team are former UFC Middleweight Champion Michael Bisping (xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE) and the one and only, not in nearly enough movies but still legendary in my mind Jeeja Yanin (CHOCOLATE, RAGING PHOENIX). She has a smaller part, but it’s not another HARD TARGET 2 situation where it’s offensively small. She gets in a little fighting and (SPOILER) the best death in the movie. I love seeing her bickering with and fighting alongside White, who looks like a giant in this cast. That’s a buddy movie I want to see.

Speaking of buddies, there are sparks of good chemistry between the Triple Threaters. The idea of Jaa and Chen being messy bachelor roommates is amusing to me, and Jaa’s boyish playfulness comes through in his love of cooking for the others (even if that character detail is party an excuse to make him say “Tom Yum Goong”). But there are a couple important scenes that are a little awkward because the three of them have to quickly bounce off each other in English. It didn’t occur to me before that they all speak different languages, so using English actually makes the most sense.

IMDb says the screenplay is by Joey O’Bryan (FULLTIME KILLER, MOTORWAY, DOWNRANGE) and Paul Staheli (7 GUARDIANS OF THE TOMB). It’s perfectly functional, well-paced and with a couple good takes on favorite action traditions:

1) The old friend who might be mad from some old grudge but owes a favor and allows the use of his arsenal.

Bonus: He’s played by veteran Hong Kong action actor Michael Wong (LEGACY OF RAGE, ROYAL WARRIORS, KNOCK OFF, FIRESTORM)

2) The scene where the martial arts expert could shoot their enemy but out of respect (either for the opponent, for combat or for the audience) puts the gun down so they can have a duel without weapons. In this case he fires all the bullets at nothing before throwing down the gun. So fucking cool.

It’s understandable to compare TRIPLE THREAT to THE EXPENDABLES, our go-to way of describing all-star action team ups. But EXPENDABLES took still-beloved action icons of the past, milked them for nostalgia, then kind of wasted them by not having full faith in their ability to remain relevant, instead bungling their fight scenes with trendy shakycam and desperately teaming them with less interesting young up and comers. (Not to mention casting Adkins as a henchman without giving him a real fight scene.) TRIPLE THREAT doesn’t have to try so hard to be current because it is in the fact the stars of many of the best martial arts movies of the past 10-15 years, including both Asian hits and cool western DTV, and helmed by the mostly-DTV director currently on the hottest streak.

When we first heard about TRIPLE THREAT in 2016 it was said to be directed or action-designed by Chad Stahelski (JOHN WICK) and be about “a Chinese martial artist who goes to Mexico to rescue his ex-wife and their son after they are kidnapped by a drug cartel.” Well, I’d watch that too. But this is the TRIPLE THREAT that was meant to be, and it’s a good one.

Now, who should join the team in QUADRUPLE THREAT?

TRIPLE THREAT arrives in wide release for one night only on Tuesday, March 19 and in select theaters and on VOD Friday, March 22.

*besides Jeeja

This entry was posted on Friday, March 15th, 2019 at 8:15 am and is filed under Action, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

21 Responses to “Triple Threat”

  1. The Undefeated Gaul

    March 15th, 2019 at 8:45 am

    Can’t wait for this! Another review mentioned a bit where Jaa & Iko both go up against Adkins and that just sounds like an action fan’s dream to me. Hope it’s part of a drawn-out fight and not over too quickly. In any case, sounds like it delivers on expectations (which in my case I’ve tried to keep realistic, seeing as Johnson’s films have been hit and miss for me) so I’m excited.

  2. I’m so excited to see this in a theater next Tuesday!

  3. Larry Sternshein

    March 15th, 2019 at 10:09 am

    As of yesterday, the three theaters showing it have sold no tickets.

  4. At the Alamo here, it’s half full.

  5. And the rest of – who live in the real world outside of America – probably won’t see this before summer.

  6. I would do anything for Iko’s hair. So full and lusterous. I hope there’s a good way to see this in Australia soon or a Blu-Ray I can buy…

  7. I thought it was Gary Daniels not Adkins that was in The Expendables.

  8. Daniels was in the first one. Adkins was in the second. Both had the generic high-kicking henchman role.

  9. The Undefeated Gaul

    March 15th, 2019 at 3:44 pm

    Both had probably the best fight scenes and deaths too

  10. *reads review*

    *checks Alamo Drafthouse website*

    *tries to buy ticket*

    *walks to atm to put money on debit card*

    *walks back to work*

    *buys 2nd row-center (aka ‘perfect’) seat*

    *exhales*

    Whew, that was a wild ten minutes, y’all.

  11. *realizes that it’s the exact same time his book club is supposed to start*

    Well, that’s why I have a co-host. I liked the book, but fuck it. Priorities.

  12. I cannot believe this movie is actually screening in my town tomorrow night. I guess I’m obligated to go see it, yeah? Seems like a throwback to the Yuen Biao / Jackie Chan / Sammo Hung actioners of old.

    QUADRUPLE THREAT: TRIPLE THREAT CHAPTER 2 should be a LAST CRUSADE scenario where the heroes need the expertise of one of their dads to save the day. In fact, Sammo could play the dad as a nod to those “Three Brothers” movies.

  13. The German distributor is planning a very small limited theatrical release as a double feature and currently we can vote if the other movie is gonna be HEADSHOT, THE RAID or the Kurt Russell joint SOLDIER, which would be for the first time uncut on German screens. None of the cities are near where I am, but it’s nice that stuff like this is happening.

  14. Seeing this tonight at the local Alamo. It’s half sold out but my son and I have second row center. This is going to be a long day.

  15. Happy TRIPLE THREAT Day folks!!

    My theater is also half-sold out. That’s only because there are only like twenty four if even that in the theater but still…

  16. Another solid movie from Jesse V Johnson and this time with a dream-team cast. As we live through this semi gold age of action, I find myself less and less caring about how bad they dropped the ball and didn’t even try with THE EXPENDABLES movies.

  17. Saw it in a theater tonight. Perfectly solid and entertaining, but I can’t help but feel a little bit underwhelmed. Like so many supergroups, it feels like everyone’s saving their best ideas for their solo albums. There’s no shortage of respectable action, plenty of good fights, and it’s all pretty clear and varied, but it’s cripplingly short on “oh shit!” moments. The conclusion of Jeeja’s fight got the biggest reaction from the crowd I saw it with, who seemed ready to really love it (nearly everyone stayed for the little documentary feature afterwords*) but were mostly pretty quiet. Judging from handful of his films I’ve seen, Johnson has a respectable gift for directing action, but possibly not the best sense of how to structure stories (or even sequences) in a satisfying way. Nothing here seems to build properly, it just kind of lurches forward and then abruptly stops and starts again (the worst offender being MJW’s death, which happens so suddenly and without fanfare that I was confused about why he wasn’t getting up immediately). All the fights are good, but none of them really take you on a journey and end with a climax.

    Chen and Jaa are a good duo in the hardscrabble, hustling Hong Kong heroes mode, and they both do well with few quirky character moments the script offers them (it could probably use a little more of that, but who has time with all these characters?). And Adkins and MJW are terrific as the villains, giving what amounts to fairly generic roles some delightfully hateable sneer. But Uwais seems to be stuck in a separate story which never quite gels with anything else. He doesn’t even really get his revenge! They probably should have stuck to double threat until they figured out how to better incorporate him into the story.

    Anyway, a perfectly fine time, and certainly better than any of the EXPENDABLES, but it probably needed 10% more whammy to justify all the assembled talent. It’s a competent showcase for all these guys to do what they do (and certainly flashy and large-scale enough to comfortably play on the big screen) but compared to, say, THE NIGHT COMES FOR US, it feels like pretty small potatoes.

    *Which turned out to be completely banal actor chit-chat, basically a commercial for the movie we just saw. What the fuck is the point of that?

  18. It’s pretty clear they didn’t have the time or money for that extra 10% but what we got was entertaining. I thought the Jaa vs Scott Adkins fight was the highlight and totally awesome. I also think Tiger Chen was great. Iku really doesn’t get much to do. Almost like he was filming another movie at the time and only was able to get away every now and then. Actually he was probably doing Night Comes For Us because he’s also not in that one that much.

    They showed the preview for the spin off of Ip Man and it looks fucking fantastic and I, for one, cannot wait.

  19. Man, that was just a super-fun night at the movies like I rarely ever get these days. The crowd (again, about half-full but a pretty big theater) were all into it and pretty vocal for an Alamo audience. The Jeeja/Iko fight most definitely brought the house down, but my favorite moment was when Tiger was run backwards up a floor-to-ceiling fence and kicks off of it into his attacker. Never seen that move before.

  20. Wish I had a super fan crowd. You’d think this one only playing downtown in the expensive rich person’s theater would only bring out the real fans. My nephew and I got to share the theater with:
    -couple who chose the seats right next to us even though there were not many seats taken
    -a guy who pulled out his phone and played on it whenever an action sequence started
    -lady who just wandered into the theater after work and just wanted to watch whateves and continuously answered her phone throughout the movie.

    Also the sound system was broke in the theater they played it in and there was an obnoxious loud hum the entire runtime and then some.

    I felt real good spending almost $50 and getting stuck in traffic for an hour and a half to see it on the big screen instead of staying home and watching my iTunes preorder.

    Still good movie though.

  21. Larry Sternshein

    March 20th, 2019 at 7:33 pm

    My theater was full of people who like these kinds of movies.

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