Three Extremes is an Asian horror extravaganza that will immediately evoke films like Creepshow, Tales from the Darkside, Tales from the Crypt, Amazing Stories: The Movie, Twilight Zone: The Movie, The Lunar Pack, Tales from the Hood, Grim Prairie Tales, The Nightmare Collection, Creepy Tales, Nightmares, Street Tales of Terror, Tomb of Terror, Trilogy of Terror, Blood Bath, Dead Things (which I am actually in), Dr. Terror’s Gallery of Horrors, The Tenement….let me catch my breath…and all parts II, III, and IV of any of the above mentioned, and probably countless others that I don’t have time to mention. What I mean by this is that Three Extremes showcases three tales of horror, and while this idea, as you can see, is not new, this is an extremely effective and awesome display of talent. And also, unlike many of the above-mentioned films, this collection doesn’t suck very badly.
Three Extremes devotes its time to only three films, which means each film gets a full half hour to 45 minutes to really develop and get creepy. There’s no wrap-around host of any kind, just pure and simple beginnings and endings. The three films are very very different from one another, since the languages, countries, and directing styles of all three directors are vastly diverse. Takashi Miike, the infamous director of Audition and Citizen Q, is widely known as a creator of Japanese cult films. Park Chan Wook is a Korean filmmaker with a slick sense of humor and the absurd, while Fruit Chan is a Hong Kong director of great stature in the industry. All of their films are so vastly different, yet amusing and entertaining, and some cases, beautiful and terrifying, that it almost makes me want to puke that we keep coming up with such trash with our Western horror anthologies. I am raging with envy. I am not aware of any shitty Asian horror anthologies, though I do not doubt their existence, but I am glad that they are widely unknown at the very least. Ours stick out like sore thumbs.
Takashi Miike’s films use so much symbolism that its borderline pretentious. In fact, if I weren’t so amused and delighted by the Asian language and the different types of architecture I see when watching his movies, I’d probably have to stop watching his films. As it is, I love his work, because I don’t really get it half the time. Miike is fond of long beautiful displays of lighting, color, and props that don’t have any significant meaning to the plot. Or do they? Perhaps they have so much meaning that you’re missing it and aren’t sophisticated enough to understand it. It’s a toss up. Miike’s film The Box is certainly confusing, though lovely. About the sexual molestation of two young girls by their father, and the effects into adulthood, The Box is about being trapped. Oh, it’s definitely a horror story. People die, gruesomely, and grimly, and Miike isn’t afraid to cross the line of what’s decent and what’s just plain offensive to everything humanity stands for. Miike makes these observations without ever losing his artistic tough, unlike most directors. While Miike can make these distasteful images on the screen, he is still able to retain his dignity. It’s amazing.
Fruit Chan directs Dumplings; a much more cynical and dark look at the female psyche. Dumplings is about many issues; pregnancy, abortion, ageing, love, marriage.. all of the things that many women find very important t their security and lifestyle. It’s also about literal dumplings, and they look really yummy. I wouldn’t advise eating them, however…Bai Ling, Hong Kong actress and sometime American starlet plays the role f Aunt Mei, a woman who is adept at the art of selling peace of mind at a price. Fruit Chan also makes his characters very easy to identify with and their inner frustrations affect the audience’s experience more than the other two films.
Park Chan-Wook’s Cut is a nasty little diatribe on the entertainment business. I guess in Korea it’s just as screwed up as it is in here Hollywood. A serial extra, and obsessed fan, kidnaps a famous director and his wife, torturing them into admitting their sins. You see, the extra loves the movies, but he can’t seem to get ahead in the industry, because people like the director have all the money, all the pull, and all the power. Not only that, but the director has had such a plush life, a pretty wife, a nice house, and he’s a really great guy. This infuriates the fan, who is determined to punish the filmmaker and his wife for being so damn lucky. Of course, it was only a matter of time before the “obsessed horror fan takes revenge on his icon” plot made its way into the consciousness of the Korean culture. After all, it’s existed for years in the United States (see the awful film The Tenement for one such tale of terror). Quirky and funny, while being pretty gory, Cut is a great way to laugh at the entertainment business while getting really really creeped out.
Three Extremes is a thematically successful horror film in the Unites States partly because it’s foreign. Let’s face it, we give foreign films way more credit that our own domestic horror fare. And why shouldn’t we? There’s a whole other language going on, and we like knowing that people get killed the same way they do in Japan, Spain, and France as they do here, in our horror films. Things that are unique are interesting, and that can only be a plus to the stuck-up, artsy-fartsy horror film critic like myself. Will the masses like it? Yes. There’s gore, and if you can read, then the subtitles should help you along. Be prepared to sit through the entire dreary Miike short, however, before you get your money’s worth….