THREE POISONS AND RED CIRCLE: Notes on Trivisa

There’s barely any novelty in saying that the Hong Kong industry likes channelling the not exactly enthusiastic expectations of things after the Handover. Well, the feeling sprinkles throughout the movies for decades. Yet, it became more palpable after the Umbrella Movement, or if you prefer, Occupy Central with Love and Peace movement of autumn and winter 2014.

As a little reminder of the inevitable changes in the industry itself, two films dominated the scene and filled media before we got to enjoy the bravura of Herman Yau’s The Mobfathers (2016): Ten Years (2015), a dystrophic omnibus of what might become of Hong Kong within ten years from now, and Trivisa (2016; trailer) bringing back the old school engaged (and) genre cinema with a contemporary zest.

Johnnie To produced, Frank Hui, Jevons Au and Vicky Wong directed story of three high ranked Hong Kong criminals. It is end of May 1997, the Handover hasn’t happened yet, nonetheless the Three Kings of Thieves already face the social, economical and administrative shifts. And they do their best to keep the standards of their life style. Modelled after the real-life mobsters Cheuk Tze-keung, Kwai Ching-hung and Yip Kwok-foon try to circumvent the changes affecting their respective field of specialty: kidnapping rich families’ members (Cheuk), robbing low profile businesses (Kwai), and trafficking electronics to Hong Kong and Mainland China (Yip). Despite they have never met, after a rumour of their reunion for one big bang of a job, frustrated Cheuk gets the idea of making the rumour real. And thus in style: by planning to blow up the Handover ceremony.

Trivisa carries one other than just the general political comment on the industry itself. Spread across 1980s, 1990s (also in the storylines) and nowadays, it turns to Hong Kong paramount subgenres of crime movies – gangster films – as attributes of Hong Kong’s own cultural status (including Suet Lam) to brush them up and add own comments, own views. In the line of sardonic humour, it might not be that difficult to draw a parallel with the Three Kings of Thieves finding themselves in a stalemate position: they accommodate to the situation, they lose, they keep to their old ways, they won’t win either.

Trivisa is very playful in its mix of loving and sardonic, manifested it the film’s attitude to the main characters. You know, that sort of affection typical for a very realistic parent (and Johnnie To’s humour). It is kind, wants you to cheer for them, nevertheless without any pity lets you see they’re both blinded and motivated by the three poisons (in Sanskrit “triviṣa”): delusion, greed and aversion that according to Buddhist teaching lead only to craving and suffering.

For all that Trivisa is one subtle, witty, nostalgic, reflective, yet impressive and engaging crime thriller with lingering aftertaste. Not only it displays the precision in script writing, but is also a proof of the three directors being the very opposite of the three main characters. This kind of entwined multi story lines movie with each of them directed by a different director cannot be made without their ability and will to suppress their ego and take a step back should an element of their story interfere with the flow of the narrative. So with these three young directors, the Hong Kong cinema has pretty good outlooks.

PS: The umbrella used as a fake machine gun by the going down the memory lane Yip was originally yellow. After yellow umbrella became strong anti-PRC symbol, it’s colour was changed. Still, the film was not distributed in China.

PS2: This might very well be a personal delusion, yet somehow the brave boasting of Cheuk: “The Three Kings of Thieves join forces for the first time, it will be terrific no matter what we do,” reminds me of the fake Buddha quote in the beginning of Le Cercle Rouge by Jean-Pierre Melville: “When men, even unknowingly, are to meet one day, whatever may befall each, whatever the diverging paths, on the said day, they will inevitably come together in the red circle.”

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