The Trigonal (Movie Review)

The Trigonal (Movie Review)
8 10

PLOT: When his wife is brutally attacked, professional fighter Jacob Casa's mission of revenge involves entering an underground tournament where the contenders fight to the death.

REVIEW: Among my earliest cinematic fascinations were martial arts action films, from Bruce Lee classics to the movies that were coming out at the time starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal, and including any movie with "ninja" in the title that I could find. I have very fond memories of watching those movies with my older relatives and daydreaming of making movies like that myself. While I still watch those movies I first saw during my childhood quite often, I have fallen behind on modern martial arts action films. But I'm eager to catch up.

I mention that back story because watching writer/director Vincent Soberano's THE TRIGONAL took me right back to the days of watching martial arts action movies when I was a kid. Aside from the presence of modern technology like cell phones, this is exactly the sort of movie I was watching and enjoying the hell out of back in the '80s and early '90s.

Ian Ignacio takes the lead and proves himself worthy of becoming a new action star playing Jacob Casa, who has had a lot of success as a professional MMA fighter. In the place where he comes from in the Philippines he's seen as a hero, and people think he's indestructible. Hopefully they're right, because Jacob is going to be put to the test over the course of this movie. Just when his pregnant wife Annie (Rhian Ramos) has convinced him to put the fighting life behind him, representatives of wealthy drug manufacturer Henry Tan (Gus Liem) show up to invite him to take part in The Trigonal, an underground tournament that's brushed off as a myth but is very real.

You know Tan's lackey Allen (Christian Vasquez) is bad news as soon as he shows up, because Vasquez gives some of the strangest, most over-the-top line deliveries you could ever hear. I don't know whether to consider his performance poor or genius, but I had fun watching him... Even if Allen was acting like a total scumbag for most of his screen time. After Jacob turns down Tan's offer, Tan kicks Allen off his payroll. So Allen goes back to Jacob's dojo to get some revenge, but only finds Annie there. 

With Annie fighting for her life in the hospital after being brutally attacked by Allen, Jacob decides to seek some revenge of his own - and that involves infiltrating The Trigonal and bringing down Tan's criminal empire with the aid of the local police. Along the way, Jacob gets some extra assistance from Sarah Chang as Mei Lei, who is also a capable ass-kicker and is very excited by the idea that they might get to pull off some Jason Bourne / John Wick style heroics..

Once Jacob gets into The Trigonal, the final act of the film consists of multiple fights that are fought at the tournament, which is a battle to the death with a $1 million cash prize. Contenders are even given bladed weapons to hack and slash at each other with. It's violent, and it's a major example of the classic martial arts movie elements you can find in THE TRIGONAL. Tan also happens to be one of those wealthy baddies who owns his own private island, which I thought was a nice touch.

Enhancing the entertainment factor of the tournament even further is the fact that Tan has a financial stake in making sure his fighters, especially Paul Allica as the slimy James Lowe, come out the winners in their matches. All of them are juiced up on a new brand of steroids Tan has concocted, and he's showing off their abilities to the potential buyers in the audience. But there's a problem with this drug: it weakens the kidneys of the people who take it. One of my favorite things about this movie is that Jacob goes into The Trigonal knowing that his opponents are going to have weak kidneys, so he trains to deliver blows with enough force to "penetrate the tissue deep enough to reach the kidneys". 

The plot kicks off with tragedy that's tough to see happen because Jacob and Annie are good people, but THE TRIGONAL is far from a downer. Not only are the fight scenes cool, but the movie also has a strong sense of humor running through it. There are laughs here and there, with the awesome Chang bringing some lively comedic relief to her scenes and Liem also being amusing as Tan, especially when the character gets frustrated.

If you're a fan of martial arts action movies, this is definitely one to seek out. I found it to be a blast to watch, as Soberano and his cast have made a film that delivers a whole lot of old school fun.

THE TRIGONAL opened in theatres in the Philippines last week and will soon be making its way around the world.



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