THREE…EXTREMES (2004) review

Laid up with a slight injury this weekend, I used my down time to catch up on a few east Asian movies on Netflix. I began with the horror trilogy THREE…EXTREMES (2004), which I’ve always wanted to see in its entirety ever since catching DUMPLINGS, Hong Kong director Fruit Chan‘s expanded version of his 40-minute segment from that compilation.

DUMPLINGS tells the story of just how much some people will sacrifice in their quest to recapture youth and beauty. Retired TV actress Mrs. Li (Miriam Yeung) visits Auntie Mei (Bai Ling) for a taste of her very special dumplings which are purported to contain mysterious rejuvenating powers. Mrs. Li has cause to fear losing her wealthy husband, since Mr. Li (Tony Leung Ka Fai) has seemingly lost interest in her and started sleeping around with younger women. Despite being initially repulsed by the secret ingredient that Mei uses in her recipe (which is never really a secret, as both she and the audience know what it is right from the start), Mrs. Li soon starts to feel the positive effects of the dumplings, so much so that she insists on being served a stronger version to speed up the youth-making process.

It’s not long before things start to go awry, of course. Auntie Mei acquires a more potent version of her secret ingredient from a pregnant 15-year-old girl and dishes it up. Mrs. Li, after initially enjoying the rapid beautifying effects, soon develops a most unattractive reaction to the meal. For reasons of her own Auntie Mei then cuts off the dumpling supply, and Mrs. Li is forced to decide just what she will do next to get another helping of the miraculous food. The full-length film and the shorter segment in the compilation differ only in what Mrs. Li chooses to do in order to get her own ingredients, with the segment’s version being a slightly more shocking choice, but the end result is virtually the same.

You get what you pay for: Miriam Yeung as Mrs. Li in DUMPLINGS.

DUMPLINGS is a disturbing film, to say the least, and some people may find they are unable to sit through it due to its shocking subject matter. Although short on gore, there is an abortion performed onscreen and later some scenes of great blood loss, but the true horror of the film lies in the secret ingredient and the use to which it is put. Whether or not its acquisition is considered illegal or immoral by you, its use here is most profoundly disturbing. But it is the very disgust that you feel that forces you to realize the true theme of the film and look more closely at the consequences of our own billion dollar youth- and beauty-obsessed culture.

Although both versions tell the same story I recommend seeing the longer film version as well. It contains a few subplots which explain the characters’ actions more thoroughly, and gives an alternate but equally disturbing solution to Mrs. Li’s dilemma. I can guarantee that you will not agree with her choices, but you may stop to consider what price you yourself are willing to pay for beauty.

A murderous extra takes elaborate revenge on a famous director and his wife in CUT.

The second segment is by Korean director Chan-wook Park, perhaps best known for ultra-violent films such as OLDBOY and LADY VENGEANCE. CUT is the tale of a famous young film director (Byung-hun Lee) and his pianist wife (Hye-jeong Kang) who suffer torture at the hands of a deranged extra (Won-hie Lim). The director is forced to play a sadistic game in which losing means the removal of his wife’s fingers one-by-one as penalty. Also a child is involved. Gruesome, blood-spattered and even sometimes comical, the story devolves into a deeper madness after both the director and his wife turn out to be not as “good” as they first seem. The ending is definitely over-the-top, but still not quite as satisfying (or understandable) as I think it could have been. I’d rather watch OLDBOY again, honestly, it made more twisted sense.

Sibling rivalry, possible incest and overwhelming guilt are some of the themes in BOX.

BOX, by Japanese director Takashi Miike (AUDITION, ICHI THE KILLER), is a more of a creepy psychological puzzle. A female novelist’s terrifying recurring dream about being buried alive in a box becomes reality. Or does it? Beautiful Kyoko (Kyoko Hasegawa) is haunted by memories of her youth spent as part of a traveling circus act performing with her twin sister and her possibly abusive magician father (Atsurȏ Watabe), which ended with a terrible accidental tragedy. Or maybe not so accidental? The only reality seems to be that she still feels a deep connection to the sister that she lost, and craves the attentions of the father that she no longer sees. Or does she? The last shot is undeniably thought-provoking! Watch it and decide for yourself if Kyoko is genuinely mentally disturbed, being driven crazy, or if it is ALL just a dream within a dream.

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