BluRay/DVD Reviews

TRIANGLE (TIE SAAM GOK)

By • Oct 9th, 2009 •

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Too many directors spoil the broth.

I love anthologies: Four Rooms, New York Stories, Three Extremes…nothing is more exciting to me than seeing three or four directors collaborate on a feature. It gives me nerdy goose bumps to see how individual filmmaking styles bump and grind on any given theme. Consequently, I was doubly excited when the Hong Kong film TRIANGLE hit the North American DVD market. Unlike a normal anthology in which each director writes and directs his own short film, TRIANGLE was constructed in a kind of “relay race”: the first director wrote and directed the first segment, the second director then took the same story from the first segment and built upon it, and so on with the third.

Really, the gimmick behind TRIANGLE blows my mind. Three well-established directors (Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam, Johnnie To) create a movie about three friends. Three directors. Three characters. Genius. Okay, that’s a little sarcastic, but the movie really does a good job of pulling you in right away. It starts off with a great hook. Three unlikely friends in desperate need of money, Fei, Sam, and Mok, are in a bar arguing over plans to rob a jewelry store. Fei is a taxi driver and momma’s boy loser, Sam is a realtor suspected of murdering his first wife, and Mok is a quiet, ex-army, antique shop owner who we always suspect is about to fly off the handle and start killing everyone in the room. Suddenly, a mysterious man appears, says he can bring them riches, and leaves an expensive antique gold coin behind to show that he means business. This encounter eventually leads to the three friends discovering an ancient treasure buried underneath the Hong Kong Legislative Council building. The plot moves quickly and, at first, is lots of fun.

The major problem with TRIANGLE, however, is that it’s incredibly hard to tell where one director’s segment ends, and another begins. This wouldn’t be an issue if each director’s style were radically different. Which begs the question: why shoot a feature with three different directors if each one of those directors is so alike? Why would I want to watch a movie directed by Chris Columbus, Robert Zemeckis, and Brett Ratner? That’s no fun. If you’re going to give me an anthology-esque movie, give me some variety. Isn’t that the whole point of having more than one director? Isn’t that the point of the “three directors” gimmick? How about a feature shared by Wes Anderson, M. Night Shyamalan, and Hou Hsiao Hsien? Now that would be awesome.

Of course, Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam, and Johnni To aren’t exactly the same. But they’re not different enough. You see, for TRIANGLE, other than the general premise and concept, there was never any in-depth collaboration between each director. Script continuity was agreed to be overlooked. The end result? The film segments have kind of the same style, although not really, while not really complementing each other although they kind of do. Plain speak? It’s a cinema car crash that whiplashes the viewer from one tone of filmmaking to the next.

This “whiplash effect” is most glaring at the one-hour mark that conjoins the second and third act. Here the segments collide. In a riveting scene, Sam has both his wife and the villainous cop she’s been having an affair with at gunpoint. The tension is HIGH, and, losing track of time, I mistakenly thought this was the climax of the movie, and expected it to finish soon. But then it didn’t. It just hung around, and turned into the third act, which resembled less of a white-knuckle thriller and more of a goofy, slapstick comedy. Question: if I was just watching a scene that had me worried that a man was about to blast a bullet through his wife’s brain, am I really expected to laugh when confronted with a cliché joke routine in which the good guys and bad guys continuously bump into each other in the dark and accidentally exchange bags? (And hasn’t this gag been done to death already?)

There’s a famous Billy Wilder quote about film structure. “If you have a problem in the third act, the real problem is in the first act.” It would have done well for these three well-established directors and six screenwriters (yup, six screenwriters) to remember that every scene of a script is connected. Emotional threads that are spun in the beginning of a movie must cohesively weave together until the end in order to create satisfaction. TRIANGLE was an experiment that ignored this rule, in the hopes that, maybe, improvisation could reign supreme.

TRIANGLE isn’t a complete disaster. It’s just…mediocre. Still, for film enthusiasts, it’s worth the watch just to see what can go wrong with a triple collaboration on a grand scale.

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One Response »

  1. Ha, this is actually helpful. I like how you go a little in depth, man. Refreshing for a film critic. I think I’m gonna skip this movie. This review was actually helpful.

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