October 28, 2005 (U.S. Limited)
Chan-wook Park (segment "Cut"), Haruko Fukushima (segment "Box"), Lilian Lee (segment "Dumplings") and Bun Saikou
Fruit Chan, Takashi Miike and Chan-wook Park
Bai Ling as Mei
Pauline Lau as Li's Maid
Byung-hun Lee as Director
Won-Hee Lim as Stranger
Kyoko Hasegawa as Kyoko
Atsuro Watabe as Yoshii/Higata
By James “Crypticpsych” Lasome
Unlike such films as Tales from the Darkside: The Movie and the Creepshow series, Three Extremes does not have a wraparound story. Instead, it’s just three consecutive short films, each from one of the legends of Asian cinema, each roughly 40-50 minutes:
Dumplings: The Hong Kong Extreme – Directed by Fruit Chan (Durian Durian)
“Just think of the results, not of what it was.” -Aunt Mei
Possibly the least well-known of the three directors showcased, Fruit Chan leads off Three Extremeswith the story of aging former TV star Mrs. Li (Miriam Yeung Chin Wah-Ching) and her quest to regain her youth so as to receive her womanizing husband’s (Tony Ka Fai Leung) love. To do so, she ends up in Aunt Mei (Bai Ling)’s apartment eating Mei’s famous dumplings. Mei claims to have been eating them for years and is “[her] own best advertisement”. When the dumplings work to a degree, Mrs. Li begins to demand fresher ingredients for greater potency. But just what does give Mei’s food its mystical power and what will Mrs. Li do when she finds out what it is?
While the twist ending of “Dumplings” is fairly easy to reason out, what makes the film outstanding is how the controversial and taboo surprise is handled. Also, the fact that the viewer can easily figure it out beforehand doesn’t detract from the gruesome, chilling visuals that accompany it. Fruit Chan also visually and stylistically appears to channel Dario Argento to great effect through his use of color, focus on detail, and creation of an undercurrent of sexuality and sensuality in scenes. But most of all, Dumplings works because of the acting in it. While everyone in the film seems to rise to the occasion, it’s Bai Ling who shines most in her role, appearing at times to become almost orgasmic over the dumplings themselves and generally bringing an almost carefree quality to her performance. This disturbing movie would later be stretched into a feature film by Fruit Chan which is included on the second disc of the American DVD.
Cut: The Korea Extreme – Directed by Chan-Wook Park (Oldboy)
“Time flies.” -The Stranger
While Dumplings is a tough act to follow, Chan-Wook Park more than succeeds at the task, producing one of the most chilling short films or movies that I’ve ever seen. In it, a kindly film director(Byung Hun-Lee) is kidnapped by an obsessive stalker (Won-hee Lim) and held prisoner in his own set alongside his pianist wife (Hye-Jeong Kang) who is super-glued by the fingers to a piano’s keys. There, the stranger challenges him to prove he is in fact dark and evil inside. The director must kill a child in cold blood in the room to be free. If he does not, then, for every 5 minutes the child lives, the stranger will chop off one of his wife’s fingers with a small axe.
What then follows is one of the most effective visual portrayals of a pure unadulterated descent into madness and psychosis you will ever see as the director wrestles with his choice. Park amps up the terror in ever-increasing amounts through brilliant techniques that include the fact that the set is an exact replica of the director’s own house from which he was kidnapped, the switching of roles as the director gets directed, discordant music, and strangely beautiful visuals (you probably will never get the sight of his wife at the piano out of your head). Through it all, an outstanding script coupled with great acting from the director and his kidnapper (who also sprinkles in moments of twisted comic relief such as a random-yet-not interpretive dance sequence) keep the viewer locked into the seat. Park almost seems to on some level be asking the viewer if they would make the sacrifice. An essential film.
Box: The Japan Extreme – Directed by Takashi Miike (Audition, One Missed Call, Ichi the Killer,Imprint)
Overall, including the time I watched it again to write this, I’ve watched the Three Extremessegment Box four times. I’m still not entirely sure I get it, and that’s kind of the point. In it, Miike tells the story of Kyoko (Kyoko Hasegawa), a Japanese writer, who is haunted by dreams and memories of a horrible accident in her past that killed her sister, Shoko (Yuu Suzuki), when they were both 10 years old. The name of the film comes from the fact that the two sisters were once part of a traveling magic act where they would contort themselves to fit into boxes for their master’s (Atsuro Watabe) show.
I’d tell more of the plot here, but this is a very visual short entrenched in love, jealousy, voodoo, revenge, and sensuality with a storyline that weaves in and out of the past and is better seen than read on a page. Miike delivers a brilliantly creepy, unsettling atmosphere through minimalist use of sound, music, and dialogue, as well as a purposely hazy timeline. By doing this, he forces the viewer to try and get a hold on the film when it is near impossible to do so. And, as if that were not enough, this film is particularly distinctive for completely shattering any expectation for the story you might have with one of the most surprising endings to a film I’ve ever seen. A great movie that may take a few viewings to totally understand but is worth it when you do.