What’s that you say? You’d like to see work from a few Asian horror directors, but don’t have time to watch three separate movies? Then “Three … Extremes” is the sampler platter you’re looking for!
We have “Dumplings,” from Hong Kong’s Fruit Chan; Japan’s Takashi Miike (“Audition,” “Ichi the Killer”) gives us “Box”; and our man in South Korea, Chan-wook Park (“Oldboy”), presents “Cut.” Separately, none of these shorts is particularly noteworthy, though I can imagine “Dumplings” and “Cut” being expanded to feature-length. (“Box” is too simple and “Twilight Zone”-ish to sustain a lengthening, I think.) But together, they comprise a macabre anthology of mayhem that may be just the thing to satisfy your horror cravings.
The films have nothing in common other than their genre and their continent of origin, which means their sequence can be altered. In fact, I believe the order has been changed since I watched them on a screener tape during the Sundance Film Fesival. I saw them as “Box,” “Dumplings” and “Cut,” and I liked that, as it put the best last and simplest first. I’m told now it goes “Dumplings,” “Cut” and then “Box,” but that sounds like a bad idea.
Anyway, “Box” is a dreamy, nearly wordless story of a woman with recurring nightmares about being buried alive who was, we discover, once part of a circus act in which she and her sister were put into small boxes by a magician. One of the girls died and the surviving woman is haunted by … guilt? Grief? Something else?
I do not generally favor the kind of “What is real?” horseplay such as this film employs, but Miike uses such an attractively ethereal style — and works up some impressive feelings of dread, too — that it’s hard to resist.
I am less fond of “Dumplings,” by Fruit Chan, simply because its subject matter is so off-putting. It is the darkly comic tale of a woman named Aunt Mei (Ling Bai) who has a secret recipe for dumplings that have a rejuvenating effect on the eater. As such, they are sought from far and wide by aging actresses, fading housewives, and others who desire a more youthful appearance. Just one catch: The dumplings’ secret ingredient is aborted baby fetuses.
“Dumplings” isn’t meant to be scary, but morbid, with perhaps a dash of social satire. My impression of it is that it is more gross than anything. I do think, however, that if the story were expanded into a feature, the more gruesome aspects could be diluted somewhat with greater emphasis on the satire, as well as on the characters who engage in the practice of eating fetuses as a sort of Fountain of Youth. (Question to scientists: WOULD THIS WORK?!?!?! That would be awesome.)
Last we have “Cut.” This is the only one of the three to exhibit any flashy filmmaking techniques, with Park’s fondness for swooping shots and David Fincher-style impossible camera angles. The story, grand and over-the-top, is of a successful horror-film director (Byung-hun Lee) who is taken hostage by a psychotic actor (Won-hie Lim) who threatens to cut off the director’s wife’s fingers if he does not comply with his vicious demands.
You can go a couple directions with that, and Park chooses the route that is both violent and funny. Park realizes, as he did in “Oldboy,” that extreme violence and horror are inherently funny, and rather than flee from that fact, he embraces it.
B+ (2 hrs., 5 min.; Chinese, Japanese and Korean with subtitles; )