Three: A political metaphor

Louis Ku (centre), plays police officer Ken in Three PHOTO: LEAFF

By Godric Leung

Johnnie To Kei-fung’s latest offering Three is not a usual crime thriller. Rather than being an action-packed feature – a genre that put Hong Kong cinema on the world map in the past – this cat-and-mouse game among three characters stuck in a hospital becomes an allegory of the current political crisis facing the former British colony in the hands of the acclaimed director. 

Shun, a young armed robber, is shot in the head by a cop by mistake. He regains consciousness but and refuses to undergo any surgery,  in order to buy time for his fraudsters’ revenge scheme towards the police. While Medical doctor Tong, who is from mainland China, urges Shun to accept her surgical treatment in order to prove her professionalism, police inspector Ken keeps pressing Shun for details about the robbery.

The police are not necessarily righteous in the cinematic world of To, as seen in his previous titles The Longest Nite and Mad Detective. To continues to expose the dark side of the guardian of law and order in Three, as inspector Ken fabricates false evidence to conceal the shot fired at Shun while pushing Tong to poison the young robber in the name of police-citizen cooperation.

Wallace Chung as young robber Shun in Three PHOTO: LEAFF

To ordinary Western audience, this might just be another dramatic treatment in a crime thriller. But to the people of Hong Kong, this is a mirror of the city’s political reality.

The way how the police abuse their power in Three echoes the deteriorating public image of the Hong Kong police after the Umbrella Movement in 2014. During the 79-days Occupy protests, which demanded for a universal suffrage of the city’s governor without Beijing’s screening occupation, a local TV station accidentally captured seven police officers allegedly beating up a protester at a dark corner. The footages were aired and shocked the city. Other footages showing the police attacking armless civilians during the protests were widely circulated online. The incidents tarnished public’s trust in the police and increasing citizens’ hostility towards the authority.

The setting of the film is another motif that warrants audience’s attention. In Three, the main characters are stuck in the hospital. In reality, Hong Kong is also facing a political standstill. Neither the pro-democracy, nor the pro-Beijing camp can win a majority support. The lack of middle-way negotiation leads to a more scattered society.

Director To trades in gave up his traditional fast-paced gunfights for a 10-minute highly stylised slow-motioned shoot-out, which involves more than 200 actors and it turns out impressive and flawless. He also inserts a reinterpretation of a classic Mandarin song, which is sung by Canto-pop singer Ivana Wong as background music. Her gentle voice makes the bloody killing scene more ridiculous and yet tragic.

Director Johnnie To on the set of Three PHOTO: LEAFF

The shoot-out reminds Hong Kong audiences of with the increase of violent protests in recent years, such as the Mongkok clash Riot at the first night of this year’s Lunar New Year. Radical localist protesters threw glasses and bricks to police officers, as they opposed the hygiene department staffs, who charged unlicensed hawkers during the local festive seasonal. Meanwhile, police used pepper spray and fired two warning shots in return. The confrontation injured more than 100 people and shocked the public.

While people keep asking why the young generation is so rebellious, To tries to offer an answer through the lyrics of the theme song, which sings “Listen to what the youths are saying, think about why they do that”.

It is a theatrical attempt in using only one set for the whole film. Yet, it is nicely executed, as To gained experience from his previous work Office, which is a movie adaptation of a theatre musical show. As an unusual criminal thriller, Three can give western audiences a new and fresh impression of Hong Kong movie, but it may require audiences a strong involvement in local affairs in order to understand the metaphors in the film.



Three is selected to be the closing gala for the 1st London East Asia Film Festival 2016 (LEAFF). Saturday, October 30, 7pm: Ham Yard Hotel Cinema, followed by Q&A section with director Johnnie To.

In Cantonese with English subtitles

工廠養活荃灣不再 居民歷盡滄海桑田

馮志遠懷念以往跑來跑去,到處維修的日子。Photo: Kanis Leung

梁嘉瑜 Kanis Leung




工廠區與民居只是一街之隔。Photo: Kanis Leung



葉婆婆以前住的楊屋道舊唐樓已變成荃新天地。Photo: Kanis Leung

工廠北遷 若有所失





這樣的日子維持了幾年,她就因為中風而停工,後來工廠更北遷了,葉婆婆若有所失地說:「唔捨得都冇辦法,個個都返返大陸……冇得掛住,以前最開心去返工,同工人傾下計,邊做邊傾計 。而家靜靜蠅蠅。」

以往工廠常用的帳簿。Photo: Kanis Leung









Story3_fig3 發展初期
荃灣衛星城市發展的初期。左邊是工業區,右邊是正在施工的福來邨。 圖源:香港記憶網頁

Danica Fung



五十年代的荃灣: 車水馬龍的工廠區





Story3_fig4 眾安街
現時的眾安街,同樣車來人往,舊時的唐樓仍圪立在兩旁。 Photo: Danica Fung

六、七十年代的荃灣: 從工廠到衛星城市




荃灣最初的海岸線是沙咀道,人來人往的眾安街也只到英皇娛樂廣場(現今的大鴻輝(荃灣)中心)。 1976年的填海工程,使荃灣的海岸線延至德士古道和楊屋道等地段。同時,隨著成本的上升和東南亞地區改革開放,工廠紛紛撤出香港。荃灣的工業用地轉為發展商業樓宇、房屋和大型商場。七十年代的末期,標誌著新市鎮的開始。

Story3_fig7 May
自爸爸過世後,May接手真美時裝,成為鱟地坊的第二代小販 Photo: Danica Fung



除了小販的遷移和重建街道,娛樂場所亦隨著新市鎮的發展而出現。八、九十年代,荃灣更成了年輕人的聚腳點。May說:「以前荃灣有很多劇院,好景(現址為翡翠廣場)、大光明(現址為大鴻輝(荃灣)中心)、華都(現址為華都中心)等。我經常同朋友到荃灣看電影,一張戲飛售二十元。」「 機鋪也很多,最熱門的是波子機。」May補充。可惜,因著網絡的普及,戲院和機鋪相繼結業。現在,荃灣只剩下百老匯和嘉禾影院。「那時,食飯到大鴻輝,買衫到南豐廣場,很旺的。若然要買牌子貨,就要到尖沙咀和旺角。」


Story3_fig10 天橋指示
荃灣的天橋縱橫交錯,接駁整個社區 Photo: Danica Fung

千禧後的荃灣: 新舊交替,自給自足




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