Starring Bai Ling, Pauline Lau, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Meme, Miriam Yeung Chin Wah, and Miki Yeung
Directed by Fruit Chan (Dumplings), Chan-wook Park (Cut), and Takashi Miike (Box)
Distributed by Lionsgate
Anthologies have always held a special place in my heart. Done right, they can be some of the most fun a viewer can have. Why? Well, mainly because the stories are so short you never really have time to get bored. It's no secret that the hottest thing to happen to our genre in the last decade has been Asian horror. Masterpieces like Ring, Ju-On, and Pulse have terrified viewers the world over, and rightfully so. Asian horror takes us back to the roots of the genre. They don't need huge budgets or overblown special effects. Instead they prey upon our emotions and fears. They guide us through recesses within our own minds we don't normally visit. Places where our demons thrive. These films will eventually take their place amongst the rest of the horror classics that we all hold so dear. It seems like a no-brainer that there would be a killer anthology chock full of that spooky Asian goodness coming our way sooner or later. Well here it is, and for the most part it delivers on all counts.
The first part of this Far East trilogy of terror is from director Fruit Chan and is titled Dumplings. Here we follow the tale of a past-her-prime actress who's seeking the secrets of eternal youth, and she finds them being cooked up by Aunt Mei (Bai Ling) in the form of dumplings. Apparently Mei has a recipe even more secret than the Colonel's eleven herbs and spices. Her ingredients are of the macabre variety, and every chomp and lip smack resonates with wince inducing sound design. Even if you look away from the on-screen action, your ears will still force you to endure every last second of sensory disgust. Finger lickin' good this is not. Unless of course you're a refuge from a Ruggero Deodato film. Rank this one high up on your squirm meters, folks; it doesn't get nastier than this. Especially in light of one of the darkest endings to a story I have ever seen.
Next we are treated to Chan-wook Park's Cut. Holy blood splattered goodness, Batman! Cut lives up to its name as once again the director of Oldboy proves that revenge is a dish best served senselessly violent. This nugget of nightmare focuses on a film director with a soul who is living the American dream, or should I say Korean? He makes a good living, has a great wife, and treats all of his co-workers with the utmost respect. A truly model person wouldn't you say? Well what better reason than all of that to have a psycho kidnap him and his wife for a little axe happy mayhem? Kinda gives new meaning to the old adage nice guys finish last. So, Mr. Nice guy wakes to find himself restrained and given an ultimatum: He can either kill a small child who is also tied up on the couch or watch his wife be tortured horribly every five minutes that the kid is allowed to live. Chan-wook's direction is stunning. This guy really knows how to work the camera and the audience. Cut does everything it's supposed to and then some. Sure, we're left with the whole let's forget about everything kind of ending that Oldboy had, but at least here we get a jazzy song and dance number!
Two thirds gone, and Three...Extremes is kicking ass. If only it could have ended there. Out of everything in this film, the one thing I was most looking forward to most was Takashi Miike's Box. Wow, what a letdown. Don't get me wrong, the man's trademark imagery and attention to detail are as incredible as ever, but something is very, very off about this one. It's near impossible to talk about this story without divulging some kind of spoiler. I will do my best not to, so please bear with me. Box is about a writer with a very dark past. When she was young, she and her twin sister were performers in their father's dance show. Favoritism can be a hurtful issue when you're growing up, and once one sis is getting a bit more attention than the other, things get out of hand in a hurry. Fast forward fifteen years, and our protagonist is still carrying the emotional scars of that one fateful night. Miike's direction of Box is methodical but at times way overbearing. It literally brings all of the film's gathered steam to a screeching halt. In his commentary Miike states that he was going for a quiet and still tone. Sometimes quiet and still do not add up to interesting. This is one of those times. That, coupled with an all too Hollywood feeling cop-out of an ending, makes Three...Extremes end with a fizzle instead of a bang.
Three...Extremes comes home to us in a two-disc special edition package, but sadly there aren't very many extras dealing with the film itself. In fact, other than Miike's aforementioned commentary and a trailer, there's nothing on here related to the movie whatsoever. So why the double-disc treatment? There's a good reason, and it is the inclusion of the feature length version of Fruit Chan's Dumplings. Talk about two drastically different cuts of the same material. It's crazy to see what kind of results some additional editing and re-shoots can yield.
The full version of Dumplings could very well stand as a justified DVD purchase even if you already own Three...Extremes. Except for the main elements the storyline is almost completely different. Truth be told, other than a much more fleshed out performance from Bai Ling, which showcases what a fine actress she truly is, I found the abbreviated version of Dumplings on Three...Extremes to be a better paced avenue for this story. The biggest difference between the two cuts of this yarn is the ending. On Three it's much darker. Much more sinister and disturbing. That's not to say that the feature length's ending was all sunshine and roses, but compare the two, and I think you'll agree with me. Also included on the second disc is a fifteen-minute behind-the-scenes making of Dumplings that is filled with insight on the production from the cast and crew. Good, but kind of standard. No matter how you slice it though, having two versions of this story is pretty damned cool.
All in all fans of Asian horror should be quite pleased with this collection of tales. Being that all three directors are of different descent (Chinese, Korean, and Japanese), it's interesting to see how they each tackle horror in one film, if only to compare. Three...Extremes can at times wreak havoc on your senses, but sadly It's one extreme short of total horror heaven.
Extended, feature-length version of Dumplings
Director commentary on Box
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