Three of a Kind (2004)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2007-11-26
“Three of a Kind” is an apt title—the three main characters are wealthy, bored and mired in melancholy. It is a screwball comedy that takes place, as they often do, among the moneyed and beautiful. Lone, based on his home, is quite rich. In Hong Kong, where land costs make it cheaper to build up rather than out he has a sprawling house the size of a convention center. Sophia, his daughter, works only because she wants to fit in not because she needs the money. Her job is to order concert tickets and flowers for her boss. When she makes dumb mistakes on even these very simple tasks--carnations instead of roses, Jim Croce instead of someone else--the boss doesn't reprimand her but tells her she needs an assistant. Frankie, the boss, spends his days flirting with his very attractive female staff and his evenings with gorgeous women that he has delivered by the busload. Lone hasn't been able to write for 13 years but obviously has no need to produce anything to support his lifestyle. His girlfriend of ten years is smart and quite fetching and puts only minimal pressure on him to marry.

We have to care about the characters in a comedy in order to identify with them and enjoy their problems and triumphs. When they are Porsche driving, Ralph Lauren cashmere wearing layabouts it is difficult to connect with them so Lone’s writer’s block, Frankie’s sudden existential angst and Sophia’s general lassitude don’t register as something to be concerned with. But the three are played by funny, charismatic and popular actors who the audience is predisposed to like and who are lovingly shot and lit so we can’t help but be charmed by the actors. Michael Hui and Lau Ching-Wan seem to be really enjoying themselves, particularly scenes in which they play against each other, barely able to keep huge smiles off their faces while they trade insults. Hui has a very funny scene in which he retreats to his kitchen and pantomimes stabbing, chopping and beating Frankie after the wedding announcement. He sees a newspaper picture of masked terrorists holding a hostage and fashions a disguise for himself from table napkins in the same checked pattern as the Palestinian keffiyeh, although these are red and white not black and white, grabs a huge sword (he keeps his wuxia props handy) and slashes through a melon, wishing it was Frankie’s head.

Lone is the only character we know anything about which makes him more unbelievable than the others who are simply one-dimensional dullards. We see Lone as a child, first witnessing his father being beaten by a very tough neighborhood gang and then being berated by his father to never do what he does—never fight. His family is clearly from the mean streets, a rough part of town where strangers with meathooks burst into one’s home to beat people up. Their apartment is small and is part of a rambling tenement. They are clearly on the lower rungs of the working class. The next scene is about fifty years later and Lone is a very successful (but currently blocked) author of wuxia novels. He has more money than his father could have dreamed of but he has no discomfort with or joy in his wealth—wealth that he earned himself through his writing. He treats the accoutrements of his status—vintage wines, fine cars, designer clothing, live-in servants—as simply part of his life, as if he grew up in such luxurious surroundings. It make no sense and is jarringly obvious, a major flaw in the script.

There is a very tiresome metaphor that pops up constantly—or at least way too often—which compares women to mobile phones. If you don’t like one just dump her/it and get a new one, since there will be a new model every couple of weeks. Its overuse is a measure of how badly written “Three of a Kind” is.

Joe Ma redeems himself and his movie in the last 20 minutes. “Three of a Kind” morphs into a live action wuxia novel as the characters Lone has been using in his books show up to tell him they are sick of him and his works. The one-eyed monk isn’t even sure which eye should have the patch and the heroine is sick of having her husband killed off—she has lost either six or seven over the course of his books, too many for her to remember. Iron Mask doesn’t have anything to say—he is wearing an iron mask—but is clearly there to support his fellow characters. The battle in the heavens that Lone finally is able to write is inspired by his love for his daughter, the searing memories of his father and his fear of growing old. The movie flashes back and forth between the very mundane—the new amusement park, Dragon Lone Town and Frankie being beaten up by a crazy kung fu artist while park guides collect a twenty dollar surcharge from those watching—to the exalted, with Frankie and Sophia becoming wuxia warriors doing battle with a champion of evil.

The last third of "Three of a Kind" is as funny, moving and even thrilling as the first hour is tedious and trite, which makes it difficult to recommend.

There are a couple of outrageous product placements--one takes place when Frankie is about to kiss Sophia for the first time. He pulls out a packet of Listerine breath strips--there is a shot of the package that fills the screen for a few seconds--and puts one on his tongue before embracing her. The second might be a parody of product placement or may be an example of outrageously bold intellectual theft/borrowing. Sophia is waiting for Frankie at a coffee shop in Dragon Lone Town. The round logos, the green banners, the placement of the art on the paper cups are clearly Starbucks but the brand name (in English) is DragonDuck coffee.
Reviewer Score: 5