IN THEATERS (SF) – “Three”

rsz_three-johnnie-toThree (2016; Dir.: Johnnie To)

GRADE: A-

By Daniel Barnes

*Now playing at the AMC Metreon 16 in San Francisco.

The best film of 2016 so far.  Fresh off a failed raid, a hard-boiled Hong Kong cop (Louis Koo) brings a wounded prisoner (Wallace Chung) into the hospital for emergency surgery and an illegal frame-up, and they’re tended by a brain surgeon (Wei Zhao) with some serious ethical dilemmas of her own.  Despite the fact that he’s handcuffed to the bed and slowly dying from the bullet lodged in his head, the prisoner holds all the power, refusing surgery in order to give his gang a chance to break him out.  A genre-hopping blast, the anonymously named Three works as part solemn morality play and part gonzo white-knuckle thriller, part huge-hearted ensemble dramedy and part pitiless three-hander, with an almost unbearable escalation of tension that explodes into one of the most insane action sequences you’ll ever see.  This is some incredibly taut storytelling by To, especially compared to the overkill of Office, yet he keeps the film grounded in his familiar theme of the vaporous boundary between power and corruption, and the human costs of both.  With his constantly moving camera, square-jawed themes, propensity for action and seamless movement between genres, To recalls muscular old-school greats like Howard Hawks and William Wellman, but he also possesses the ability to gracefully juggle an infinite number of narrative balls, even in the center of a chaotic shootout.