When Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam and Johnnie To – three heavy-weights of the Hong Kong film industry, who respectively gave us Once Upon a Time in China, City on Fire and Exiled – got together to make a film, it unsurprisingly became one of the most hotly anticipated titles. Triangle was possibly the film that could resurrect Hong Kong’s waning dynamism (output is at a near all-time low, with fewer than 50 films made last year, in comparison to 200 films a year in the 1990s).
Each director made a segment of roughly 30 minutes, and the succession between them is fairly seamless, although the different directing styles will be recognisable to Asian film fans. Tsui Hark sets the stage, Ringo Lam develops the characters further and Johnnie To wraps everything up with his trademark black humour.
The film starts with an atmospheric scene set in a bar, with dim lighting, dark background and bright spotlights on the subjects, as if they were on a stage. Lee Bo Sam (Simon Yam) discusses a bank robbery with Fai (Louis Koo), in a bid to get out of their financial difficulties. The triangle is made complete by their friend Mok (the ever-unassuming Sun Hong Lei), who tries to talk them out of the heist when a mysterious stranger suddenly offers them a chance to get rich quick, dropping an ancient gold coin and a card on the table before leaving. Following the clues left by the stranger, our hapless heroes manage to retrieve a chest buried under the Legislative Council of Hong Kong (pretty much the equivalent of Parliament), in which they find a phenomenally valuable garment made of gold coins.
However, matters are complicated by another triangle, the one formed by Bo Sam, his wife Ling (Kelly Lin) and a cop she is having an affair with, Wen (Lam Ka Tong). Seemingly delusional, Ling claims that she is pregnant and that Bo Sam is trying to kill her. Add to this a further triangle, and you have a fairly convoluted, and at times confusing, plot: Fai is actually an informer for Wen, and he is also trying to run away from the Triads who want to force him to rob a bank (which explains the opening scene, where Fai tries to convince Bo Sam, ex-champion race driver, to be his getaway driver).
The three heroes, the wife, the cop and the Triads, chased by a rookie police officer on a bicycle, all converge in a middle-of-nowhere tin-roofed restaurant, where the final act unfolds under Johnnie To’s light, comedic direction: as the fuse box is repeatedly tripped by various people for various reasons, all the protagonists scrabble in the dark for what they each came for, re-appearing in different gun-pointing configurations when the lights come back on.
Although Triangle is not the film to save the Hong Kong film industry, it is entertaining and in places exhilarating. The seasoned cast is mostly convincing and it is an interesting experiment in collective work. However, it is nothing more than adequate entertainment and will only be important to Asian film connoisseurs as ‘the film directed by Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam and Johnnie To’.