Three (2002) Movie Review

The new Asian anthology movie “Three”, in which 3 directors from 3 different countries craft individual tales unrelated to the other 2, should have been called “One”, and the only writer/director who should have been invited to the party is Teddy Chan. Chan’s “Going Home”, the last of the 3 stories, is the only one worth staying for.

There is no constant theme or narrative style to “Three”, although if you wanted to grasp for one, I suppose you could say that writer/directors Ji Woon Kim, Thailand’s Nonzee Nimibutr (“Nang Nak”), and Hong Kong’s Teddy Chan uses a “Tales from the Crypt”-like ending to give their stories punch.

South Korea’s Ji Woon Kim starts things off with “Memories”, a mystery that tries too hard to be scary, especially when the situation and story doesn’t call for it. Kim utilizes cheap scare tactics of suddenly cranking up the soundtrack with a weird noise to make you jump, but it doesn’t always work. The beginning, as a man (Bo-seok Jeong) wakes up in an empty apartment, enjoys a brief aura of mystery, but the segment soon flounders badly under its own ambitions. It’s simply not a strong enough story to last for 45 minutes. The “twist”, such as it is, is easily guessed at by the 20-minute mark, and the ending completely undermines all that has come before it, especially lengthy sequences involving the wife character.

The second segment is by Nonzee Nimibutr, who doesn’t seem to be up to the task of making another ghost story after his big budget “Nang Nak”. Nimibutr’s contribution, “The Wheel”, is a silly rehash of a dozen “Tales from the Crypts” TV episodes involving cursed/possessed dolls/inanimate object that terrorizes its owner. The segment, about a cursed puppet that embodies the spirit of its dead owner, is laughable. Worst, Nimibutr’s tale, which is set in a rural Thai village, is visually lacking. While Kim’s story at least made up for the dull narrative with style, Nimibutr doesn’t even bother that much. “The Wheel”, running at 40 minutes, is easily the weakest segment of the bunch.

The last segment, by Teddy Chan, proves the notion that all good things come to those who waits. And if you had waited through 75 minutes of uninteresting stuff, then stay for another 50 and enjoy Chan’s “Going Home”, about a tough cop who moves into a rundown tenement building with his son. The cop is played by long-time favorite, Eric Tsang (“Infernal Affairs”), who is given probably the closest he’s ever got to a leading man role (at least that I know of). The building that Tsang is moving into is scheduled to be torn down in a month’s time, which means the only people who are still there (Tsang and Leon Lai, as the only other tenant), have very good reasons to stay.

The oddball screenplay features a stripped down version of the Leon Lai (“Dream of a Warrior”) we’re used to seeing. Lai bravely casts aside his pop idol roots for a homely character devoid of all charm, but filled with conviction. Although Lai’s wife is dead, strangled by his own hands, he continues to bathe and care for her, convinced that, with the proper Chinese medicine, she will eventually wake up from her “death”, which occurred 3 years earlier.

More oddball than scary, “Going Home” is easily the movie’s most powerful segment. Leon Lai is superb in the subtle role; we’re never sure if he’s crazy or if he actually knows something Western medicine don’t. (The segment does reveal the answer by the end, so you won’t be left hanging.) Chan’s direction is very disciplined, and while he does indulge in cheap scare tactics in the beginning, he quickly abandons the technique for a more matter-of-fact directing style. It works, and as a result “Going Home” comes across as touching, weird, and eerie at the same time. Without a doubt, Teddy Chan makes “Three” worthwhile.

The failures of the other two segments in “Three” is nothing new. The Japanese anthology movie “Tales of the Unusual” had the same problem — not all the story segments were worthy of being included. My advice to those wishing to take a chance with “Three” would be to watch Ji Woon Kim’s “Memories” with the sound turned down and just enjoy the visuals; completely skip past Nonzee Nimibutr’s pitiful “The Wheel”; and enjoy every all-too-short minute of Teddy Chan’s “Going Home.”

Peter Chan (“Going Home”), Ji Woon Kim (“Memories”), Nonzee Nimibutr (“The Wheel”) (director)
CAST: Hye-su Kim
Bo-seok Jeong
Suwinit Panjamawat
Eugenia Yuan …. Hai’er
Leon Lai
Eric Tsang

Buy Three on DVD