Updated: Apr 9, 2019
Triple Threat (2019) is the latest movie from veteran DTV action director, and frequent Scott Adkins collaborator, Jesse V. Johnson (Savage Dog, Accident Man). More importantly, Triple Threat boasts one of the most impressive action movie casts ever. Just take in the martial arts star power here; Tony Jaa (Ong Bak, The Protector), Tiger Chen (Man of Tai Chi), Scott Adkins (Boyka: Undisputed, Ninja: Shadow of a Tear), Michael Jai White (Blood and Bone, Black Dynamite), Michael Bisping (Former UFC middleweight champion, xXx: Return of Xander Cage), and Jeeja Yanin (Chocolate, Warrior King 2). That list alone should be enough to convince you to watch this one. If it’s not, you must not have seen these actors’ work. If that’s the case, you need to change that. So read this review, watch Triple Threat, then marathon every movie these amazing actors have done.
Because of that insane cast, some may automatically want to compare this to The Expendables movies. Purely from an action movie fanboy’s dream cast perspective, sure, I can buy that comparison. In my opinion though, The Expendables movies were mostly a letdown when it came down to the things that mattered (fight scenes and action scenes filmed in a coherent manner). Aside from the Stallone v JCVD fight in The Expendables 2, the fight scenes were poorly choreographed with most of the actors being completely wasted (Scott Adkins was criminally underused and his fight against Jason Statham was the most disappointing of the series), and the directing ranged from bland to downright awful (Sorry Stallone, but that shaky cam shit you used in the first one was awful!).
So, yes, Triple Threat is similar to The Expendable in it’s concept of bringing together a mega cast of action stars, but it is completely different in it’s execution of that concept. Triple Threat manages to not only live up to its hype but, in my opinion, far surpass those lofty expectations. It knows exactly what we want to see and it offers us an abundance of it. It boasts some of the most star studded fight scenes of recent memory and they are all filmed with a still camera and shots that let the audience see the actors physical abilities clearly. Not only that, every star of the movie is given the chance to shine in the action scenes as well as establish their characters outside of the action.
The plot is slightly all over the place, but I give the writers (some dudes I’ve never heard of) credit. Writing a plot that finds a way for all of these characters to be forced to face off against each other, while still being an engaging and understandable story, is not an easy task. I’ll make it as simple as I can to save time, and to keep from giving everything away. Basically it boils down to this; Scott Adkins is the leader of a mercenary group, that is hired to kill Celina Jade (Arrow, Wolf Warrior 2) the daughter of a billionaire who intends to use her money and influence to clean up corruption and take down a criminal syndicate. Tony Jaa, Tiger Chen, and Iko Uwais get wrapped up in the middle of things and work together to protect her.
One weakness that I have heard or read about the movie is the acting, but I’m not sure I really agree with those thoughts. I’ve heard some people who thought the dialogue was awkward or cringy when Tiger Chen, Iko Uwais, and Tony Jaa speak English. Does it feel a little wooden and awkward at times? Sure. But, can we really blame them for speaking a foreign language awkwardly? I know I don’t. Besides, these are three dudes who all speak different languages and it is established in the movie that they don’t speak each other’s languages, so it makes some sense that they would speak to each other in English. In my opinion, these actors' flaws when it comes to acting using English don't really hurt the movie that much.
Some people (my wife included) had a hard time accepting some of the more over the top aspects of the acting. When the extras get shot, they tend to flail around dramatically before falling to the ground, and some of the acting can seem a bit melodramatic at times, especially from the Asian characters. While I can’t argue with that criticism (Hell, I even criticized Battle Royale for this very thing in our podcast), I can’t necessarily knock the movie for it. I think this was an intentional choice by the director, as he wanted a movie that could appeal to an international audience and not just a U.S. audience. Many Asian movies tend to have a more exaggerated acting style that feels weird to American audiences, and I think that style is what they were going for in some aspects of this movie. In my opinion, this is more a case of style preference, and not necessarily poor film making.
So, now that all of that is out of the way, let’s talk about what matters; THE ACTION! Triple Threat delivers on that front, and then some, with a mixture of violent shootouts, chases, and hard hitting fight scenes (All done with wireless stunt work and no CGI). Furthermore, The fights never feel stale thanks to the variety of star power involved, and the variety of fighting techniques that those stars use. Fans of action will love seeing the differing styles face off, even if one doesn’t have much knowledge of different fighting styles (I’m talking about myself here). The styles are so visually different that you will immediately notice the difference.
One scene that stands out to me is the opening action sequence. It is a violent raid on a jungle village where Scott Adkins is being incarcerated. The raid is done by Adkins’ mercenary group in an attempt to break him free. This scene stands out for a few reason, the first of which is it is a clear, and very well done, homage to the guerrilla base attack from The Predator (1987). The village is completely annihilated by the group in a loud and fantastic barrage of nonstop gunfire and explosions from grenade launchers.
The other reason the scene stands out to me is that the group is led by the always amazing Michael Jai White as Devereaux. Of the cast, MJW is the only one that has had an acting career outside of action movies. He has shown his acting ability in dramas like Why Did I Get Married?, and he has shown a knack for comedy playing in movies like Black Dynamite. The thing that has been consistent throughout his career, regardless of the movie genre, is his undeniable charisma. He has a way of commanding the screen and he has always comes across as a likable guy. He is front and center for this village raid scene and every bit of his physical prowess and relatable charm is on display. He also got to be a part of a fantastic fight against both Tiger Chen and Iko Uwais. I’m glad he got his due in Triple Threat because he has been one of the most consistent, yet somehow still undervalued, action stars of his time.
The other scene that stands out is Scott Adkins’ fight against Tony Jaa. As I was watching the movie, I began to get a bit worried. Adkins had a lot of screen time as he is the main villain, but for most of the movie he wasn’t given a whole ton to do. He did a lot of barking orders and running around and shooting at people, but that’s not what I paid money to see. I came to see him fight. My anticipation was more than rewarded when the inevitable final fight came though!
This fight is easily the best scene of the movie (and one of the coolest scenes of 2019 so far), and it is a brilliant showcase of the three actors’ abilities. Adkins is all rage and fury as he uses his size and length (including some of his trademark flying kicks) to viciously attack Jaa. Meanwhile Jaa counters with his speed and agility. If you have seen his other stuff, you’ll recognize his Muay Thai moves as he throws a constant barrage of elbows and knees. This was already enough to take me to action fan nirvana, but they made it even better!!
Out of nowhere, Iko Uwais shows up and joins the fight against Adkins!! HOLY SHIT! I honestly don’t think I could think of a better modern martial artist scenario than this. Luckily for me, this fight lived up to my lofty expectations. The choreography by stunt performer turned fight choreographer, Tim Man (Acts of Vengeance), accents the fighters’ strengths while making it believable that one guy could take on two. The fight is also filmed beautifully, with enough movement to make it feel kinetic while also having enough wide shots for the audience to always have a clear picture of where the actors are and which moves are being done by whom.
Overall, Triple Threat is the must see action event of the year. While it might have some aspects that seem awkward, like some of the dialogue and some over the top acting, this movie promised one thing, a collection of some of the biggest martial arts stars on the planet, and it more than delivers. Fans of action movies and martial arts movies will watch this movie with a huge smile on their face, I promise that. There’s only one thing that could have made this movie better; Donnie Yen!!! I don’t know if it’s even being considered, but I would love for this to become a franchise in the vein of The Expendables. As long as they would continue to load the movies with martial arts stars and continue to showcase those stars this well, I would be in the theater for every single sequel!
RATING: 9 out of 10 (A)