Thursday, January 10, 2008

Two's Company, Three's A Crime

The only trouble with Triangle, the Tsui Hark/Ringo Lam/Johnnie To joint project, is that the three directors' presence takes precedence over everything else. It might have had a different effect if they had kept it a secret that there were three different directors, and only revealed that in the end.

From the very start, the appeal of Triangle isn't the story or plot, or even the three leads - Simon Yam, Louis Koo and Sun Honglei. It's the fact that this is an experiment that puts three directors to the test in a storytelling game similar to the one in Mysterious Object At Noon. And that fact overrides everything else, something that can't be helped in a work like this.

And what an interesting experiment it is. It kind of lays bare the three directors, exposing them to scrutiny, because connecting their three disparate styles can only make each more pronounced next to the other. I'm not that clear on the exact genesis of the project, nor how the three worked together and what their modus operandi was. The extras on the two-disc Hong Kong DVD set don't reveal much in those terms. But the challenge for them must have been to try and create a cohesive film as much as possible and not end up with three ill-fitted pieces of filmmaking. In that respect, Tsui, Lam and To succeed, as the transitions are seamless where one left off and another picked up.

Funnily enough, much of what goes on in the film reflects what went on in real life. Three very different directors come together to attempt to tell a story about three individuals from very different backgrounds who come together to attempt a seemingly impossible alleviation of their downtrodden, desperate situation. This almost preposterous film project lands squarely on a really preposterous story idea, of a hidden treasure in the women's restroom of the Legislative Council building. No explanation is given as to how the treasure got there, as unknowable as the element of mystery in the story - the old man who gives the three men a gold coin and clues to the treasure.

From there, the directors take off running and never stop. Tsui has a penchant for removing men out of their comfort zones and adding enough urban intrigue to situations that brings them to the brink of boiling over, while Lam brings things to a more psychological level, often blurring the lines between the real and the unreal. But it's To who gives a whole new lease of life to the story just as things threaten to turn mundane. He clearly has more fun with the material, freely flitting between action and black comedy, even using the comedy trick of the old switcheroo in the dark. There's tension, then bursts of comic relief, then chaos. It's clear where To intends to take the material the moment Lam Suet appears as a hilariously over-the-top Ecstasy-junkie. By the time To's done with the material, it resembles little of what had gone on before, but still somehow feels like a befitting close.

I could never understand all the complaints about the film being too eclectic, or having too many characters and subplots, and being confusing. There's clearly no other way of watching Triangle other than with a conscious view of this being sort of a "game." In that respect, the more subplots and elements thrown in in the beginning, the more fun it is to see how each director would resolve their segment of the story. And in this respect too, it seems To had the toughest job of the three.

The Hong Kong two-disc edition of Triangle, available from YesAsia, has a second disc of extras, including a very short making-of, behind-the-scenes with all three directors, deleted scenes, a TV spot and trailer. There are no English subtitles for the extras, but the behind-the-scenes don't really need any translation.

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