Fantastic Fest 2023 Review: TRIGGERED (Topakk), Brutal Action Highlights Flick From The Philippines
Richard Somes directs the Filipino action movie.
Miguel is an ex-soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after a mission he was leading went horribly wrong. Now a civilian, he takes a job as a security guard. On his first night on the job a young woman, Weng, breaks into the property. She is being hunted by a corrupt police death squad. Miguel can hand her over to the police or fall back on his soldiering skills and battle this death squad and his demons.
Richard Somes directs the Filipino action movie, Triggered (Topakk), set against the real-life War on Drugs. Somes and his team sets the tone early, showing the events that lead to Miguel leaving the army and taking up civilian life. Not only does it set up the character of Miguel but also gives us a taste of what is to come in terms of action. It is a proclamation to the audience: this is going to be a brutal and violent action movie. There will be no prisoners when all is said and done.
Time has passed and Miguel is encouraged to take a job as a security guard of a derelict warehouse site, just to do something normal. He has been effectively cut off from anyone related to members of his former squad. He is still haunted by the events of that day, waking up screaming and shaking. He is barely functional but he needs to do something with his life now.
We are introduced to Weng and her brother Bogs. Bogs seems to be active in love-level drug trade but has gotten himself into enough trouble that Weng has to step in to protect him. The story alludes to her having gotten out of the drug trade but agrees to go back in to save her brother's life
Finally, we move on to our other players in the story, the Anti-Narcotics Underground Operation Group. We are introduced to Romero’s group and from the ‘casual exposition’ amongst themselves we learn that there is a lot of unwanted attention on them from the media and the police because of their methods. The irony is not lost on us that the team has a group prayer before going out on their next mission.
This mission is to pay a visit to a drug runner that night. Romero and his team are their to let the drug runner they are ‘terminiating’ their agreement with them;.they’ll no longer turn a blind eye to the operation. We also begin to learn how far up the ladder the corruption really goes. Weng and her brother just happen to be at the same place that night, to make up for Bogs’ screw-up earlier.
This is the second big action set piece of the flick and the siblings manage to escape the chaos and stumble upon the old warehouse where Miguel has begun his first night. We are about an hour into Triggered and we have been building to this moment, where Miguel must decide if he is going to protect Weng and her brother, or hand them over to Romero.
Thankfully he does not, because that would be huge let down. This is a huge pay-off for action fans who were given a taste of this brutality early on in the film. We’ve been building up to another near-hour of shoutouts, knife fights, and death by industrial instruments and common tools of the nightwatchman. Now we go whole hog into the violent action. Miguel and Weng evade and fight wave after wave of Romero’s gang and reinforcements from the rest of the Anti-Narcotics Underground Operation Group.
There is a moment where Weng wanders off on her own. There is no rhyme or reason for it. However, the end result is so… splattery… that it more than makes up for that first “Where’s she now!?!” question we had as the scene opened. Weng felt left out, she needed her own moment in the ultra-violent spotlight.
How would we describe the back half of Triggered? Imagine if Timo Tjahjanto were allowed to recreate the warehouse scene from John Woo’s Hardboiled in his own ultra-violent style. Yes. Triggered is The Night Comes For Us meets Hardboiled. It may lack the kind of standout villains those other films had, but in way of the setting and the level of violence those films gave us, Triggered is pretty darned close to delivering something similar.
There are some things that are sacrificed in order for the violence to be as brutal as possible. The work of Somes’ stunt coordinator Erwin Tagle and his assistant Henry De Guia is clearly stylized and taken influence from the East and Southeast Asian action scene. Case in point, take a look at a knife fight between Miguel and it looks like stunt actor Ian Lee.
It is shot wide and as the fight goes on if you blink you might miss the stunt actor doing the SPL: Sha Po Lang alley fight thing with his knife. Once the stunt actor and Miguel locks arms in hand to hand combat he has to do the SPL alley fight thing to free up his knife. Normally, any director who followed suit after Wilson Yip, Donnie Yen and Jing Wu did it in SPL, they too would pull in close and bring attention and emphasis to the… you guessed it… the SPL alley fight thing.
It is a sweet, sweet move and any other time this happens it is usually meant to draw an uproarious reaction from the audience. But director Somes’ purpose here is not to participate in creating the art of action but focuses on its brutality. We do miss some clarity because of it - some action gets lost in the editing, some gets lost in the framing. This is not a complaint, merely an observation.
It did make us think about why Somes didn’t bring more focus to the move and we can only come to this conclusion. This is not art, this is war. Though, the final fight at the end happens outside in the rain. Fighting in the rain is cool as fuck (allow Somes some artistic expression at the end of a long night), but perhaps symbolically the rain is washing all their sins away, leaving just two foes to sort out their grievances.
Triggered is a feast for action fans looking for another slice of ultra-violent action cinema from the Southeast Asia region. It foregoes artistic expression, instead delivering a brutal action flick where everyone faces to consequences of their actions and choices, made willingly or not.