“Triple Threat” Movie Review


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     My good friend, Jon Gentile, and I have been talking martial arts films for over two decades now.  So much so, we created a Top Ten Martial Arts Films of All Time list in 2014 to discern which films stood atop our individual mantles as the very best.  Bottom line is, I’m a sucker for a good fight sequence and the thought of putting together a modern martial arts dream team to unleash their brutal skills on each other in well choreographed mayhem is exactly the kind of experience I want at the movies.  Director Jesse V. Johnson has assembled just that sort of team in “Triple Threat”, combining a group of modern martial arts stars with a few older ones  in a film that exists not for its story or plot, but to create scenarios where these guys can face off and show the audience why their technique, athleticism, and brute strength are legendary.

     Know this going in, “Triple Threat” is the kind of movie where one of the main characters will stand in front of an adversary armed with a machine gun at point blank range, and fire every round in the magazine into the ground just so they can have a fist fight instead.  Logic in terms of tactics and winning these scenarios are completely out the window in favor of seeing whose stand up fighting abilities are superior.  I suppose you could make the argument that the good guys would rather win in a more honorable way, but given the circumstances of these encounters, taking out a villain or two with a bullet would’ve been the more energy economical way to go, but then we wouldn’t get to see the wild stunts and fight choreography Johnson and most of his cast have made their careers on.

     The film opens with a team of operators moving through a remote jungle in China where they seek to free one of their own who is being held captive in a hidden village.  They are led by two hired local mercenaries, Payu (Tony Jaa) and Long Fei (Tiger Chen), who are charged with helping the team locate the village and extract Collins (Scott Adkins), a fellow assassin being held there under the assumption he is a terrorist.  With a swift and fatal blow, the team moves in, killing nearly everyone in the village with an endless spray of automatic gunfire.  The attack awakens a bystander in one of the tents, Jaka (Iko Uwais), only to witness his wife being shot in the cross fire and dying in his arms.  Jaka briefly engages in a fight with Long Fei during the ongoing gun battle, but is knocked out and left for dead.  Minutes later, the team finds Collins in an underground cell and then proceed to burn the village to the ground.

     The screenwriters (Joey O’Bryan, Fangjin Song, Paul Staheli) send Jaka on the standard quest for revenge we often see in these types of films, with the endgame always leading directly to a showdown with the primary villains, who in this case are directly responsible for the murder of his wife.  His initial focus is to catch up with Payu and Long Fei, but all is not as it seems with that duo as they are victims of betrayal themselves and were a part of the nefarious team that killed Jaka’s wife under a false pretense.  And at that point, we now have the assembling of our first marital arts dream team with Tony Jaa (“Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior”, “The Protector”, “Furious 7”), Iko Uwais (“The Raid: Redemption”, “The Raid 2”, “Mile 22”), and Tiger Chen (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, “The Matrix Reloaded”) all on a war path to take down the high end group of assassins.

     Those assassins, now that their team is again intact, have been hired to kill the daughter of a Chinese billionaire who is set to take down a major criminal organization.  The operation to do so brings the assassins, their target, and our trio of martial arts experts together in the same location, forcing them to do battle.  In the bad guy corner, Scott Adkins (“The Expendables 2”, “American Assassin”), Michael Bisping (former UFC Middleweight Champion), and Michael Jai White (“Spawn”, “The Dark Knight”) are waiting for our heroes as they duke it out first in a police station in the film’s action centerpiece, and later in an abandoned building perfect for the ultimate showdown.  None of this is to be take seriously of course.  When you look at a film like “Triple Threat”, the critical eye is squarely on the fight choreography as you compare each sequence to the previous work of Jaa, Chen, and Uwais, while also measuring it against the greatest martial arts films of all time.

     The verdict sees better work from all involved in their previous films, but that’s not to say the film doesn’t achieve the kind of gripping bare knuckle stunt work all martial arts fans crave. “Triple Threat” works really hard to ensure you get what you paid for.  And if you’re a fan of any of these guys, then you’ll welcome the melding of styles in every scene.  Tony Jaa’s brutal flying elbows to the top of the head, Iko Uwais’ pin point close quarters Indonesian fighting technique, and the brute force of Michael Bisping’s real life tested MMA style are all on full display.  It’s a true throwback to the 80s where the over the top violence is what you’re there for and everything else is secondary.  GRADE: C