The ostensible sequel to earlier multi-director Asian horror anthology "Three," "Three…Extremes" is another trinity of shorts from three different directors: Fruit Chan of Hong Kong’s "Dumplings," Park Chan-wook of Korea’s "Cut," and Takashi Miike of Japan’s "The Box." Presumably more edgy than the original "Three," "Three…Extremes" has garnered considerably more international attention than the first film due to the fact that this set of directors are particularly hot shit right now.
Sharing nothing thematically to string them together, the films are a mixed bag best taken in pieces. "Dumplings," from the least well known director of the bunch, is also by far the best, a gleefully disturbing and occasionally poignant combination of the macabre and the mundane. Miriam Yeung stars as a former actress whose inability to accept the fact that she’s aging leads her to track down a woman (Bai Ling) known for making dumplings with remarkable rejuvenating qualities. The growing dread as we figure out, along with Yeung’s character, what exactly goes into the dumplings is truly Cronenberg-worthy. Ling is particularly good as a cheerful, rough-mannered mainlander who approaches her gruesome craft with the unaffected callousness of someone raised slaughtering animals on a farm.
"Dumplings" is beautifully photographed by Christopher Doyle, and, except for one memorable shot at the end, eschews shocks in favor of pacing and the occasional gross-out moment. The sound design is also notable — eating noises have never been quite so horrific. There’s a feature-length version of "Dumplings" floating around without US distribution that we’re planning to look up after this.
Park Chan-wook, whose Cannes Jury-prizewinner "Oldboy" earned him the adoration of hip audiences everywhere, directed the second story, "Cut," a campy, sometimes funny attempt at Grand Guignol. "A Bittersweet Life" star Lee Byung-hun plays a director who comes home after a long day on set, only to be kidnapped, along with his wife, by a disgruntled extra, who, angry at various broad injustices in life, strings the director’s wife up with piano wire and threatens to chop her fingers off, one at a time, until the director strangles the random young girl the extra grabbed off the street.
Park is fond of flashy, David Fincheresque camerawork that suited "Oldboy" but here is just distracting. His meta-ish jokes aren’t particularly clever, and the tonal shifts from drama to black comedy to whatever else are jarring enough that we never get a sense of the characters or understand them on any level deeper than sharing their desire for the event to end (Kang Hye-jeong, who played Mi-do in "Oldboy," is particularly shrill as the wife). The setting is fabulous, however, a set that looks like it was designed by a gothy twelve-year-old girl, with a black and white tiled floor, velvet furniture, and Kang strung up like a human-sized Victorian marionette at the grand piano.
Like many of Takashi Miike‘s films, the final story, "The Box," appears to have been conceived on the basis of one or two striking images, and the rest of it thrown in as filler to get us there. Kyoko Hasegawa plays Kyoko, a novelist haunted (literally) by her past in the form of her dead twin sister. As young girls, they were contortionists/dancers as part of their father’s act, which appears to be some ghastly combination of Cirque du Soleil and "CarnivÃ le." Dark, richly colored flashbacks alternate with snowy, sparse shots of the present day, as Kyoko flutters around in the snow acting fragile, and finally reveals the secrets of her past.
Though rather lovely, "The Box" is structured around a dream/not dream structure that renders the storyline utterly incomprehensible. There’s a standard droopy-haired girl ghost, a frighteningly realistic doll, a character standing out in precipitation wearing mime make-up a la "Abre Los Ojos," reoccurring imagery of being buried alive, and some incest thrown in for what’s ultimately an empty exercise in style.