Who knew so much visual interest could be found in the blues and greens of a modern hospital?!
I wasn’t able to make it to Montreal this summer to cover my favorite film festival, Fantasia, but there’s a silver lining to that cloud. This year, for the first time, the festival is offering critics the opportunity to view screening links to selected films. So I get to feast on the best in genre films from around the world, and share my opinions on them, without packing my pillow and blanket. I even made some ramen in my Tim Horton’s travel mug to simulate the experience of being there without really being there.
Johnnie To is a legend among devotees of Hong Kong actions films, and he’s received a lot of recognition from the international critical establishment as well, although sadly not so much from academy voters here in the United States. Three, his 67th film as a director, is not the kind of film that gets nominated for awards, but it’s reliably entertaining and, as you would expect with a To movie, beautifully shot.
The story of Three is deliberately constrained in terms of space, character, and time, directorial choices that ratchet up the tension and make the payoff that much more enjoyable. The entire film takes place within a hospital, and much of it is set within a single room. There are only three main characters: a gangster (Shun, played by Wallace Chung), a policeman (Chan, played by Louis Koo), and a surgeon (Tong, played by Vicki Zhao). Finally, the action is driven forward by a sort of ticking time bomb, as Shun has a bullet in his head and Tong tells him he needs surgery within six hours to safely remove it.
Shun appears barely tethered to reality: Despite being critically injured, he loves to talk in philosophical riddles and taunt the hospital staff. He refuses the operation to remove the bullet, while at the same time demanding his rights like a jailhouse lawyer. It’s not immediately clear if he’s crazy like a fox or just plain crazy, but he does have a reason for stalling: His gang is planning to storm the hospital and rescue him. Chan, whose face is a study in tension, screwed up during the arrest and is desperate to nail Shun, even if he has to frame him to do so. Tong, an ambitious young woman in a male-dominated profession, has had two surgeries go bad recently and is desperate to save the life of this patient, although more for the sake of her self-confidence and career than out of any humanitarian concern for him.
The heart of Three is, as the title suggests, the conflict among the desires and actions of these three main characters, but the film also includes some memorable minor characters who supply humor and pathos at critical points. Above all, Three is a beautifully paced and elegantly shot film (who knew so much visual interest could be found in the blues and greens of a modern hospital?!), and it ends in a stylized action sequence (some of it achieved by having the actors move in slow motion, rather than relying on manipulation of the film speed) that brings the story to a satisfying conclusion.
One of the big appeals of the movies, from the earliest shorts to the most recent blockbusters, is that they offer you the chance to visit a world other than your own. Often that world is populated by creatures that have never existed outside the cinematic universe but which are imbued with the same characteristics—emotion, volition, and the like—as any character played by a human actor. Creature Designers: The Frankenstein Complex, a documentary directed by Gilles Penso and Alexandre Poncet, is both an informative look at the guys (and yes, they are almost entirely male) who make the creatures you see on the big screen and a love letter to the past and present creators who labor behind the scenes to bring the likes of King Kong and the Alien to life.
Creature Designers is crammed with interviews and demonstrations of how specific effects were done—Rick Baker, Joe Dante, Guillermo del Toro, John Landis, Phil Tippett, and Matt Winston are among the many who appear on camera. Even if you’re a film geek, you’ll probably learn something from this documentary. For instance, I had no idea how much of a role was played by models, as opposed to CGI, in the first Jurassic Park movie. These guys love to talk about how they work and also about how much they were influenced by the work of pioneers like Ray Harryhausen. There’s an undercurrent of nostalgia pervading some of the interviews, as they discuss how the speed and ease of CGI has resulted in less use of practical effects, with what some perceive as a corresponding loss of authenticity in the final product. | Sarah Boslaugh