Three Hong Kong cult helmers play pass-the-parcel in “Triangle,” a seriocomic crimer by Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam and Johnnie To that’s a diverting, sometimes head-scratching experiment that will mostly chime with Asian movie buffs rather than satisfy general auds as a single, homogenous pic. A continuous narrative that roughly falls into three segments, each strongly marked by its director’s individual style, pic will garner fest and ancillary action on strength of the powerhouse lineup of names. But theatrical fortunes look more moderate compared with their solo works.
Idea of a story being handed on to the next director to develop and film separately sprang from Tsui, who’d known Lam and To since their times together at Hong Kong web TVB 30 years ago. Tsui finally set the ball rolling with his initial seg, shot late last summer, with Lam taking up the story in December, and To wrapping the yarn during January-February this year. Gaps in shooting were partly caused by the availability of the actors, most of whom appear throughout the picture.
Individual segs, each about 30-35 minutes, aren’t signposted or attributed — stemming from a desire for the pic to be seen as a communal work — but for anyone who knows the trio’s signature styles, it’s pretty clear who did what. Younger cult helmer Soi Cheang acted as “associate director,” mostly coordinating for Tsui and (a little) for Lam.
In rapid-fire fashion typical of Tsui, funky cabbie Fai (Louis Koo), indebted husband Bo-sam (Simon Yam) and Mainlander antiques dealer Mok (Sun Honglei) are introduced — three drinking buddies all desperate to score a big payday. They initially plan to take part in the robbery of a jewelry store arranged by some hoods, but one night a mysterious guy offers them another deal: to retrieve a box hidden under the Hong Kong Legislative Council building that will make them richer than they ever dreamed.
Story’s setup is not a little confusing, with a host of strands competing for the audience’s attention. For starters, in a subplot that isn’t really developed by the later scriptwriters, Bo-sam is portrayed as a very dark character who may have killed his previous wife and is plotting to murder his current one, Ling (Taiwanese actress Kelly Lin). Latter is having an affair with a cop, Wen (Lam Ka-tung), who’s on the tail of all the crims.
The robbery ends in chaos but the trio manages to escape with the box. As Lam takes over the directing reins, pic’s style calms down and characters start to take on some depth as they discover the box contains some ancient Tang-dynasty artifacts, including $1 million in gold coins.
Relations among the trio break down as Wen tries to arrest Bo-sam, Bo-sam discovers Ling’s affair with Wen, and Fai comes under suspicion for grassing on them to the cops. After a high-speed car drive and a weird, tenebrous sequence in a warehouse after Ling joins the four men — both very typical of helmer Lam — pic shifts gears again as Wen escapes with the gold and the others pursue him in Fai’s cab.
Final half-hour, clearly directed by To, is more blackly humorous, as the cab breaks down in the rural New Territories and all the players congregate at a waterside restaurant at night. Recalling To’s own highly choreographed actioners like “The Mission,” as well the inn set pieces of the late King Hu, the gold passes from hand to hand as the bullets fly and the lights go on and off.
Pic’s passage from an antsy setup, via more character-driven drama, to an elaborately choreographed finale plays to the strengths of each director as well as being a mini-primer of their different styles. Lam and To come off most successfully, while Tsui’s material seems unnecessarily complex and fussy.
Cast of To regulars, including Yam, Koo, Lin and (in a burbling cameo) Lam Suet seems at home, even when the holes in the plotting aren’t fully covered up by smart editing and technique. Overall, pic is a varied meal that provides many passing pleasures for gourmets but may confuse average auds’ palates.