Saturday, September 19, 2009

Triangle: Grade C

Triangle (2007)
Simon Yam, Honglei Sun, Ka Tung Lam, Kelly Lin, Yong You, others.
Directors Ringo Lam, Johnnie To, Hark Tsui; (Chinese; subtitled)

In this contemporary Hong Kong crime drama, three men discover a buried treasure worth 8 million dollars. A suspicious detective hovers about as they try to fence it, but he is also sleeping with the wife of one of the men. They lose the treasure, recover it, lose it again, recover it again, and so on, until there is a long, drawn out gun battle at the end. The story is pretty silly, and anyway, it is not clear that the men committed any crime so why were they on the run from the police?

Oh, well, never mind that, because what this movie is really about is the three directors. Each director takes a 30 minute segment, and the different styles of work is what makes the film interesting. The first third is like a typical thriller, with the men skulking about at night, then digging up the treasure, and with the theme of the unfaithful wife. The style is atmospheric and the photography is high contrast, self-consciously dramatic. The story is a bit hard to follow because it took me a while to catch on that the cop’s girlfriend was a wife of one of the diggers. Without transition, you gradually realize that you are in the second segment, because the style has changed so radically. Now it is a psychological drama with the main treasure hunter obsessed by his wife’s infidelity and becoming violent, unpredictable, even crazy as he tortures the cop. There are vignette scenes that mix his imagination with reality. It is interesting and artistically done, but disconnected thematically from the thriller format that had been developing, so the character doesn't make psychological sense. The cop gets away from his tormenter and the chase is on, and before you know it, it is a madcap chase worthy of the Keystone Cops. You realize you are now in the hands of the third director who turns the film into a farcical comedy.

Basically it is three different 30 minute movies, loosely stitched together. But none of them bothers to give a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end. The result is like some experimental novel where different authors write succeeding chapters. It is neither a set of short stories, nor a coherent novel. So it is fun to see the directors’ styles, but as a movie, it is unsatisfying. A format like that used in The Driver (2001) works better, where the same short story is told in its entirety by different directors.

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