In the irreverent Disney movie Blank Check, a young boy, through a comedy of errors gains the wealth of a bank robber. He spends the entire movie buying snacks and sodas and limo rides and toys and all the things that kids imagine they’d do with a whole bunch of money. Similarly, in the movie Kazaam, a young boy finds a genie’s lamp and begs its genie (played by Shaquille O’Neal) for snacks and sodas and on and on. These movies sparked the imagination and caused every kid watching to wonder what they’d do with unlimited power and access.
If I were Preston Waters from Blank Check or Max from Kazaam, I’d probably spend my money or my wishes on the chance to see a movie like Jesse V. Johnson’s Triple Threat. There’s wanton gunplay, a script carved from blocks of cheddar, and gratuitous celebrations of martial arts mayhem. It’s a film for the Bam! Pow! Kaboom! addict inside every one of us.
Less Plot, More Punching
The story follows Payu (played by Tony Jaa), Long Fei (played by Tiger Chen) and Jaka (played by Iko Uwais) as they defend a Chinese heiress. Pursuing the heiress is a gang of hitmen led by characters whose names I forget but whose actors are the unforgettable Scott Adkins and Michael Jai White.
The hitmen slaughter everyone in Jaka’s village and betray Payu and Long Fei. Of course, their guns might as well be starter pistols for a cinematic sprint through bullets, punches, kicks, and explosions. Each protagonist is a megastar of martial arts cinema, and the villainous duo is the perfect opposition for them. Let’s take a moment together, you and I, to celebrate them.
We have Tony Jaa, the elephant king, and master of the knee-to-the-face. This wonder blew my mind back in 2005 with Tom Yum Goong, a movie where he fistfights the entire continent of Australia until they give his baby elephant back. I could barely withstand the grace of Muay Thai. Then, I quivered in awe at Jaa’s willingness to throw himself into a meat grinder made of stunts. After a long absence from the world of adrenaline-soaked celluloid, I squealed with joy to see his return. Every fight scene was a praise song to his furious knees and elbows.
What’s the Collective Noun for Badasses?
And what needs to be said about Iko Uwais, the madman of The Raid Redemption and poster child for the new wave of Indonesian films? With a puckish grin and phenomenal range, he’s proven himself again and again as one of fighting cinema’s biggest stars. Unsurprisingly, the heavy lifting of Triple Threat falls on his shoulders, and he does his reps like a grinning, kicking, punching Atlas. While more mainstream and accessible than the staggering violence of The Night Comes for Us (2018), Triple Threat is still a playground in which everything is an ass for Uwais to kick.
Tiger Chen, a new face to me, admirably serves as the film’s moral everyman. He doesn’t have Uwais’ antihero grit or Jaa’s fresh-from-the-monastery innocence, but strikes and smiles like a new Donnie Yen. Every scene with Tiger is a reminder to google his name and find more of his work.
As far as the villains go, Michael Jai White and Scott Adkins deliver perfectly golden heaps of martial arts cheese. Grinning behind giant assault rifles and cackling amidst explosions. Michael Jai White’s own martial arts prowess comes into play, and there’s always a wave of joy whenever the star of Black Dynamite (2009) and Spawn (1997) knuckles up.
Triple Threat is unapologetic in its dedication to action over plot. It’s impossible to scratch one’s head when all you can do is pump your fists. And Jaa, Uwais, and Chen break enough bones and fire enough bullets into stuntmen to guarantee maximum pumpage. Get some friends, dim the lights, and let Netflix turn your home into a stunt show spectacular. This is a martial arts film with stars at the height of their powers in a genre neck-deep in an exciting new age.
I can think of no better way to spend a blank check or a genie’s wish.