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Ben Nagy reviews ‘Triple Threat’: Fans of old-school Cannon flicks are gonna love this

The second furious flick we’re taking a look at here in Kung Fu-bruary is Triple Threat that got released in 2019 after a bunch of Chinese financiers said, “hey, we want to get in the movie business. Let’s get a mess of direct-to-video action flick stars and throw them in the jungle, like in a Missing in Action flick, then let’s do that cage-fighting thing from Bloodsport, and then we’ll turn it into a kidnap-revenge-double cross flick and market it like it’s an Expendables flick, even though it’s been five years since the third one was out.”

It worked.

One thing about the modern kung-fu flick these days compared with the ones from the 1970s and even somewhat later is that you can definitely see the influence Muay Thai and other full-contact combat sports have had. There’s a lot more brutality and harshness in the fights featured, rather than formulaic kick, whoosh, thwack, kick, whoosh, thwack, with the accompanying sound effects. The stuff looks like IT HURTS these days.

One notable flick that turned the tide toward that most-modern style and that lots of people cite when they talk about seminal foreign action films, The Raid, helped cement Iko Uwais as a star. Here, Uwais gets the lead billing in this flick as this villager guy, Jaka, alongside Tony Jaa and Tiger Hu Chen.

And, if you weren’t paying attention last week, the flick opens with that staple of kung-fu flicks – an airplane and then an exterior airport shot. So although things change, they also stay the same.

However, the arrival this time is not that of our main kung-fu expert/hero. It’s heiress businesswoman Tian Xiao Xien, who’s told the news media that she’s going to get rid of all the nasty crime in crime-ridden Maha Jaya by using her fortune to take down the syndicate. Her dad grew up in the city, and she just wants to make him proud.

Yet out in the jungles beyond the city, a bunch of people dressed like Jesse Ventura in Predator do a raid on an MI-6 hidden holding site. They’re there to spring Collins (Scott Adkins), this guy who’s been kept underground in a Hannibal Lecter mask and hasn’t been permitted to shave, bathe or open up an online sports betting account for a long, long time, which explains why he’s in such a bad mood and yelling at everybody through the whole movie.

The party’s led by Devereaux (Michael Jai White — “Black Dynamite” himself) and there are a few other lackeys. They’re guided by a couple of locals, Payu (Jaa) and Long Fei (Chen).

During the raid, the militia uses whatever caliber bullets that are best to shoot through houses and fire about 5,000 rounds while also employing grenade launchers and stabbing and kung-fuing pretty much everybody to death, including the wife of Jaka.

Jaka gets concussed and knocked out, Collins gets sprung and the two guides barely escape the big flaming bamboo inferno. After he comes to, Jaka has to bury everybody, including his wife who got shot and so there’s our motivation for vengeance part of the flick.

He tracks Payu and Long Fei to the Bloodsport-style underground Kumite death match with Burmese cobra-taming music on the soundtrack. Payu wins a death match by elbow bludgeoning his opponent to cause an extreme cranial fracture.

Then Jaka challenges Long Fei: “You kill my wife. For this, I kill you,” but gets his butt kicked.

Payu and Long Fei feel sorry for him, put him up in their flat, feed themselves and get drunk, trying to resolve the misunderstanding. Jaka calls the cops on em and leaves.

The whole opening sequence is basically like one of those team-up comic books. The heroes meet because of a misunderstanding, they resolve the differences and then decide to team up and face the real peril.

Ben Nagy reviews 'Triple Threat': Fans of old-school Cannon flicks are gonna love this 1
Jaka (Iko Uwais) gets himself acquainted with the gracious and benevolent Collins (Scott Adkins), who’s cleaned up well in “Triple Threat.” (Photo courtesy IMDb.com)

That comes in the form of Adkins, Devereaux and his other paramilitary lackeys. They decide they’re going to go get Xiao Xien and kidnap her after a live TV interview, but that goes somewhat awry as she escapes to the local police station where Payu and Long Fei were taken.

The terrorists put on black Jason masks and decide to go kill the guys at the police station. There’s about 6,000 rounds shot in there, and it’s the best police department attack scene I’ve seen since Arnold the Barbarian demolished that precinct in the original Terminator flick. Bunch of chases happen, there’s some treachery and then a final fight at an abandoned polo club in the end.

Ben Nagy reviews 'Triple Threat': Fans of old-school Cannon flicks are gonna love this 2
Ben Nagy reviews 'Triple Threat': Fans of old-school Cannon flicks are gonna love this 3
Devereaux (Michael Jae White), left, fights Jaka (Iko Uwais) in the final battle scene of “Triple Threat.” (Photo courtesy IMDb.com)

The Guy Who Got the Best Lines: Devereaux gets the vast majority, such as, “Those guys are our navigation and GPS system that’s why we brought them.” “If there’s a cost, put it on my credit card.” “My gut has kept me alive. Almost like a sixth sense. Right now, my gut is telling me you’re up to something.” “That’s the dumbest thing you’re never going to live to regret.”

Best Melee: Henchguy Dominique knifes three cops and then gets machine-gunned.

Best Criticism of Mercenary Hiring Practices: “Where did you get them? From a village of F—–g Ninja Warrior Land? Jesus Christ.” Collins says.

Best Conditioning: Collins chases down a car on foot, jumps on it and then busts the windshield with his fist.

Best Splat: One character is vaporized after being shot by a grenade launcher at close range.

Ben Nagy reviews 'Triple Threat': Fans of old-school Cannon flicks are gonna love this 4
Collins (Scott Adkins) thanks his host for his hospitality before checking out of his prison in “Triple Threat.” (Photo courtesy IMDb.com)

Best Way to Cope With Your Long Underground Imprisonment: “This place reminds me of Boy Scout camp — bunch of assholes there as well,” Collins says.

Director Jesse V. Johnson (The Fifth Commandment) kept Triple Threat rolling along. Little seen (online sources say it got a whopping one-day limited theater release in the U.S. and grossed a hair under $6,000 opening day and a total of $76,000 and some change), folks who want to get into old-school Cannon Films retro mode with better production values and fight choreography definitely should check it out.

So while the days of the impervious lone hero shooting 1,100 bullets, spouting a one-liner and walking away from an inferno without a scratch might be over, this is a decent substitute. Sure, in this one it took three heroes, 11,000 bullets and there was only one scene of exploding bamboo, but, hey it’s not the 1980s anymore. Candy bars used to be 35 cents. Inflation is a thing.

Four stars.

To note – the production’s dialogue has a mixture of Mandarin and English, so subtitles were needed at times. Check Triple Threat out on Vudu, Fubo, Hoopla or other streaming services or on physical media. I happened across my Bluray at Big Lots for something like $5.

Next up: Our annual Henry Rollins Day celebration review.

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