If we can credit any director with upholding the legacy of Hong Kong crime cinema in the age of American action-movie dominance, it's Johnnie To. Unlike contemporaries who've lapsed into semi-retirement (Ringo Lam) or turned increasingly to historical epics (John Woo), comedy or wuxia (Andrew Lau), To continues to hold the triad banner high.
Three is a noteworthy action film, HK or otherwise, because it's actually almost entirely devoid of action (unless you're counting surgeries, which are nauseatingly plentiful). It takes place entirely within the confines of a hospital, where hard-bitten Inspector Ken (Louis Koo) is forced to babysit Zhang (Wallace Chung), apprehended at the scene of a jewel heist and suffering from a gunshot wound to the head that maybe (probably) was a botched execution attempt by one of Ken's team members.
Filling out this dramatic triad (boom) is no-nonsense neurosurgeon Dr. Tong (Zhao Wei), tasked with removing the bullet from Zhang's brain. Unfortunately, Tong has what Viper from Top Gun would refer to as a "confidence problem," having already botched two previous surgeries. Complicating matters further is the fact that, for reasons possibly related to his penchant for quoting Bertrand Russell and laughing maniacally, Zhang wants to leave the bullet in.
Three is uneven well before it gets to the climactic shootout, which is where things really go off the rails. 70 odd minutes of medical tragedy and cops matching wits with criminals devolves into incongruously balletic gunplay accentuated with CGI blood effects so terrible Sam Peckinpah is doing cocaine in his grave. It's a weirdly calamitous tonal shift, erasing the scant goodwill we'd felt to this point and putting Three down for the count once and for all.