Three . . . Extremes


With the success of “Three” in 2002, another Asian cross-cultural trilogy of horror films has been hatched and unleashed on the public. This time two of the three are again from Hong Kong and Korea but the third hails from Japan rather than Thailand and again three of the top Asian directors were brought into the project. The three stories dramatically differ from one another in terms of plot, mood, style and sub-genre – one being a ghost yarn, another grounded in revenge and madness and the third looks at our fears in everyday living – but all three are solid entries and would be at home in any of the classic horror anthologies of the sixties from Hammer or Amicus. All three are beautifully shot with wonderfully designed sets that are awash in color and detail and simply make the viewing of them a pleasure.



Box (Japan)
Duration: 40 minutes
Director: Takeshi Miike

As quickly as Miike can churn out a film, making one as short as this probably took him an afternoon. It is nearly all mood and imagery with an ethereally chilly story as a backstop. It is far from typical Miike in many ways as he eschews violence and the bizarre for a surrealistically dreamy tone poem that slowly crawls up on you but never really bites. In some ways it feels influenced by the Korean film “A Tale of Two Sisters” in style, plot and a sense of lingering melancholy.

Reality becomes interwoven with dreams and the supernatural as we peer into the life of Kyoko (Kyoko Hasegawa) who seemingly drifts from the present into her past and from reality into fantasy until all these lines are blurred and it becomes almost one. A reclusive writer, she carries the painful memories of her childhood along like a bag of bricks ready to fall on to her head. When she was a child, she and her sister (Mai and Yuu Suzuki) danced in their father’s entertainment act and she feels responsible for a tragic accident that took place.  Ghosts and suffocating memories swirl about her head until it is ready to explode in despair and madness. Evocative, perplexing and lyrical, this is a nice change of pace for Miike though it may not feed the hunger of fans of his more extreme fare.


Cut (Korea)
Duration: 48 minutes
Director: Park Chan-wook

Park Chan-wook has received much international acclaim for his two unnerving and gut-wrenching vengeance films, “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” and “Old Boy” and his contribution here follows along those same lines though not to nearly the same powerful effect. Bloody yet playful at times, one is never quite sure how serious this is supposed to be or whether Park is partly poking fun at himself and parodying his earlier efforts. Shot in bold clean colors encompassed within a classic giallo horror tableau, this is really the only part of the trilogy that might comfortably earn the “Extreme” aspect of the title.

Successful film director, Ryu (Lee Byung-Hun), returns to his movie setting home after shooting a vampire scene at the studio and is captured and knocked out by an intruder. When he gains consciousness he finds himself attached to an elastic material that allows him to roam for a specified distance. He also finds his wife (Gang Hye-Jung) trussed like a marionette with her fingers glued to piano keys by a film extra (Lim Won-Hee) who has lost his mind and is insanely jealous of Ryu’s fame. More than this though he hates Ryu because Ryu is so ethical and treats everyone with respect. The captor gives Ryu a choice – to show that he can be evil or he will chop off one of his wife’s fingers every five minutes. Surprising confessions spill out of Ryu but this does not satisfy his captor and he gives him one more opportunity to save his wife – commit murder. It gets intense at times, but one still senses that Park was chortling behind the camera at much of this.


Dumplings (Hong Kong)
Duration: 37 minutes
Director: Fruit Chan

Fruit Chan is clearly the most surprising choice among the three directors with his record of non-commercial independent films that delve into the lives of the lower working class in Hong Kong with a sympathetic if jaundiced eye and a sly touch of dark humor. Horror has been a genre that he has stayed away from and to some degree he still does with this film as it is far from a traditional horror film and yet at the same time manages to be true to the roots of Hong Kong horror that has been so influenced by Japan as of late. He hands the camera over to Christopher Doyle who beautifully seeps the frames in deep colors and shadows. There are no typical horror scares here  - no jump out of your shoes moments – it is really more a reflection about the sadness of life and in that way it is similar to the Hong Kong segment “Going Home” from the first film (and in fact this is produced by Peter Chan who directed "Going Home".

While most horror films surround themselves with the supernatural, malice or insanity, Fruit chooses a theme of absolute normalcy – one that we all come face to face with in our lives – what is scarier in the real world than the inevitability of getting old and our bodies wearing down until death is a welcome guest. We fight it with workouts, plastic surgery and vitamins but in the end it always wins. Aging is terrifying to Mrs. Lee (Miriam Yeung) who after having retired from her successful career in television is approaching middle age and witnessing her husband’s (Tony Leung Ka-fai) growing lack of interest in her. He tries keeping himself young with a series of affairs with infantile women, while Mrs. Lee turns to Aunt Mei (Bai Ling) who reportedly has a secret for keeping one’s youthfulness.
In a plot point that could outrage many, Aunt Mei obtains the remains of aborted babies in the Mainland and turns them into delicious juicy dumplings. As she explains to Mrs. Lee there are many sources in Chinese literature and history that show that the eating of human flesh keeps your youth and vitality – and if she is doubtful – just look at me – and shows her a picture of herself in her twenties – from forty years ago. Mrs. Lee is sold and begins a diet of dumpling fetuses cooked with loving care by Aunt Mei – there is no remorse – no sense of wrong doing – only a need to floss her teeth afterwards. With the rejuvenation taking longer than she would like, Mrs. Lee demands something faster working – no problem – all we need is a five-month fetus – the most nutritious – soft like kittens she explains.
Dumpling has also been released as a separate 90-minute film and so obviously the differences between the two are dramatic. Having seen the full-length film first, I found the short version to be much the weaker piece and find it hard to judge on its own merits without comparing the two. The shorter version almost completely cuts out Tony and his mistress, the schoolgirl and her mother, a number of scenes between Miriam and Bai Ling and reduces Bai Ling's sexuality significantly. These cuts really change the emotional timbre of the film – for example the origin of the aborted baby is missing in the short version and this reduces an element of dread. Another brief but important part cut is a flashback to Mrs. Lee’s wedding – as this is used as a comparison of her then – full of hope and youth – to her current state of remorseless need – this is the real point of the film – how age infects us with dread and corruption that can bring out the monster in any of us. Most intriguing though is that Chan completely changes the ending – the long version shows Mrs. Lee being coldly manipulative while the short version is positively evil and creepy - sort of tragic mood versus horror jolt. It's odd that Chan cut his film down to 37 minutes while Cut went for 48 minutes - another 10 minutes of added material would really have helped this segment. But I should add that many of those who have seen Three without first having seen the full-length Dumplings consider Chan's segment to be the best of the trilogy by far.

My rating for Three Extremes: 8.0 – in order of preference – Cut, Box, Dumplings
My rating for Dumplings: 8.0 – a very fine film with great performances from Miriam and Bai Ling.