I have always been a fan of action and adventure films. I grew up on James Bond and Indiana Jones and grew into the Die Hard, Rambo, Terminator and Lethal Weapon franchises. Basically your average, action fan. In the last 10 years or so I have gone deeper into the martial arts and action stars of the 80s and 90s - by viewing films starring everyone from the well known Van Damme to the lesser known Jeff Wincott and everyone in between. Thanks, very much in part to doing Dr.Action and the Kick Ass Kid, spit at my film collection and you’re as likely to hit a PM Entertainment, Don “The Dragon” Wilson classic as you are a Stallone film.
These 80s and 90s heroes, who had a resurgence post The Expendables films, are the gateway drug into the world of modern, martial arts and action cinema. With the rise of streaming services, just as with the 80s rise in recorded, physical media, the opening up of international film markets, the cinematic popularity of franchises like The Bourne films and even the physicality seen in some of the comic book movies, you can’t move for straight to DVD/VOD action films.
It can be quite an ocean to navigate because for every highlight like The Raid (for example) there are a hundred that roll out the same old tropes, on a shoestring budget, somewhere in eastern Europe, starring maybe one actor, ex-wrestler, martial artist or reality TV star, who fancies themselves as any of the above, that you’ve heard of. This is not to say that these hundred films can’t be and aren’t entertaining and enjoyable, they often are but you know where you are, they aren’t exactly challenging and they’re nothing that anyone would call excellent.
It is good then to have people in the field of action and genre film-making that you can trust. People who, even with a potentially generic script, can turn out something you’ve not quite seen before, who can add emotion and human interest where there wouldn’t normally be or who can shoot the hell out of a location.
Lately, Scott Adkins and the action Scorsesse to his Kung-Fu DeNiro, Jesse V Johnson have been those people. Both of them came out of the stunt world with Jesse coming from an industry family that includes the legendary Vic Armstrong and Scott using his athleticism and martial arts to make bigger stars look way better than they actually are before moving on to become a star in his own right. The new wave of another golden age of action movie making.
Scott first struck up an occasional and fruitful partnership with Isaac Florentine, with especially Ninja and its sequel really showcasing to action audiences, what he was capable of doing. With Jesse Johnson at the helm and the varied, fun projects they have worked on together, he has grown into a fantastic actor as well as continued his jaw-dropping, martial arts prowess. Showing himself to be just as adept at comedy and villainy as he is at earnest heroics. No character is ever 2 dimensional in a Johnson flick and so it has been a thrill to see Scott add those layers to his performances. With more to come in the much anticipated Avengement.
You don’t have to look much further than Jesse V Johnson’s independently produced, exquisitely photographed and lovingly retro solo feature The Beautiful Ones to know that Johnson is not a paycheck seeking, lazy, shaky camera exponent who is just cranking them out, shitting them on to a streaming service and moving on to the next town to mindlessly do it all again - way far from it. The thing that immediately strikes you about a Jesse Johnson film is the quality of the images, the construction of shots and the deliberate camera moves that him and his cinematographer Jonathan Hall (for the last three) have put together. Round about the end of the first act, the second thing that strikes you is that the characters are fleshed out and the plot is not so straight forward or generic. To us action film junkies, these things are a breath of fresh air.
When you combine these elements with the once-in-a-lifetime, powerhouse cast of Triple Threat then you have a real reason to sit up and take notice.
Whether it’s Seven Samurai, The Dirty Dozen or The Expendables, incredible ensemble casts may be nothing new but it is rare that both the protagonists and the antagonists, in a martial arts thriller of this kind, be such exceptional practitioners as well as beloved actors. It sets up Triple Threat as particularly special because while there are definite good guys and bad guys, you definitely don’t mind watching the likes of Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White and Michael Bisping do their thing. It also suggests a legitimate obstacle to our heroes Tiger Chen, Iko Uwais and Tony Jaa. The ending show down, especially, demands to be seen and is a masterclass of tension fueled, expertly shot, achingly cinematic, hand to hand combat.
It goes without saying then - although here I go saying it - that the action sequences featuring gun-play, car chases, fisticuffs, stunts, explosions and the rest are exemplary and exhilarating, made all the more so by the fact that you care for the plight of the protagonists. Fight Choreographer Tim Man, crafts fights and face offs that don’t feel forced, overly balletic or hyper-real but rather pleasingly authentic, gritty, dangerous and that have stakes. I defy any fan of big, loud, kick ass action not to feel satisfied as the credits roll and even, dare I say it, actually feel emotions throughout!
The movie allows its characters, and the actors portraying them, to have their human moments, their own agendas, a sense of humour and talk in whatever language or accent that best suits the moment. This may not sound like a bold move but it’s actually far more rare, and therefor very welcome, in the world of action features than you’d think and adds to the authentic portrayals and acting in the film.
Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais and Tiger Chen as well as demolishing scenery, they are also able to chew it up with the best of them and Triple Threat gives each of them their moments to shine both with their breathtaking martial arts but also with comedy and, at moments, heart wrenching emotions. The camera loves them and the charisma is palpable. Uwais, especially, who has some of the heavy lifting when it comes to his character’s feelings, is a joy to watch and has so much going on in his eyes and expressions.
For me, over the last few years, I have felt that new movies just haven’t been blowing my skirt up the way they used to and 2015-2018 seemed like a dry period. As 2019 begins, however, I have already found three movies in as many months that will be on my top 10 lists at years end - Triple Threat is one of them.
Well Go USA who are releasing Triple Threat in the US are doing so on the big screen for one night only - March 19th - (although some theatres are carrying it for a week) and then going the usual On digital/VOD route on March 22nd. If you haven’t done yet, although it’s late, it’s not too late - get your tickets here NOW - it’s a shame that there isn’t a rising action mini-studio (think like Blumhouse has become for horror) that believes in the genre on the big screen. Well Go USA should be applauded for at least trying this (and we should ALL support it) but Triple Threat deserves the large canvas, and equally large audiences, and it’s a bit insane that a movie this good and this enjoyable doesn’t get longer in theatres to make its mark. We can only hope that it becomes a favourite at the revival houses, geek theatres, midnight screenings, still going drive-ins and local indie bar/cinemas that dot the US landscape from coast to coast.