Woo-hoo! Blow up the beach ball and pass the peyote because this is like the Three Tenors getting together again and they’re gonna rock! Okay, it’s nothing dull like that. “Three Extremes” is an anthology featuring three of today’s hottest Asian filmmakers: Takashi Miike, well, you all know about him and if you don’t, you need to get on the school bus; Fruit Chan, didn’t know much about this Hong Kong indie filmmaker, but with a name like that you have to expect a little something…different. His previous works include “Public Toilet” – a kind of Mondo film about public restrooms – “Hollywood Hong Kong” – a troublesome prostitute destroys the lives of everyone around her, it’s like “Amelie”, but in reverse – and “Durian Durian” – a little girl forms an unlikely friendship with a prostitute; Chan-wook Park, the hot name out of South Korea right now who has given audiences around the world plenty to squirm about with his brutal tales of revenge, “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” and “Old Boy.” You wanted the best? You got the best! These guys are all at the top of their game and they’re gonna take you on an interesting trip.
Takashi Miike’s “Box” is a breath of fresh air for folks who frequent the filmmaker’s brutal cinema. The first thing you’ll notice is how calm, quiet and visually inviting Miike’s snowy backdrop is. No noisy, dingy cityscapes here, nor are there any yakuza – there’s only so many perverted yakuza movies a person can takes before he can’t takes no more – but as proven before in his previous film “Audition”, that calm and quiet is probably Miike slowly winding his foot back before launching it straight up your a*s. Enjoy the serenity while it lasts. “Box” focuses on a young woman plagued with nightmares of being wrapped in plastic, stuffed into a small box and buried in shallow ground. During her waking hours, the woman, who we come to realize is a reclusive writer, appears crippled with grief. Further dream sequences, flashbacks and hallucinations reveal a family disaster in her youth in which she was responsible for the death of her twin sister. At present time, we’re seated with what appears to be the woman’s cracking point as she accepts an invitation to face her tragic history. As the film seamlessly weaves in and out of fantasy, reality and dementia, you may find yourself getting just a wee bit annoyed as you wonder “just what the hell is going on here?” However, what gets you through is the lush cinematography and the hope that Miike really is behind you, still slowly winding that foot back, getting ready to give you that good swift kick any moment. Well, that kick does come, but it’s nothing as jarring as what takes place in “Audition”. It does provide a satisfying payoff, however, in a “Tales from the Crypt” kinda way…not to cheapen the effect. This is a film that gets better the more you chew on it and it’s definitely some of Takashi Miike’s best work.
With “Dumplings”, Fruit Chan actually overpasses Takashi Miike in the shock and disgust department. An aging actress, past her prime, visits an illegal dumplings house. That’s right, illegal dumplings house. It’s like a crack house, but the drug of choice here are Chinese dumplings…made from aborted baby fetuses. Shock and disgust. This actress willingly pays top dollar for these things as the young female chef sells her on the idea that this rare…delicacy…can regenerate her youth. The older and more developed fetuses the better. So the film carries on as the actress pays for more and more dumplings and as increasingly disgusting the main ingredient gets, the more people begin to take notice of her once again. And then, the film just kinda ends. Like me, you’ll feel like you’re missing out on something and it’s with good reason. “Dumplings” is originally feature length, cut down to a mere thirty-some-odd-minutes. This new cut seems to kind of work for the exception of a few quick scenes that seen out of place, involving characters that we haven’t been introduced to previously. They make what originally would have been a curious ending just plain confusing and they derail the story that originally was on a sharp, steady course. Oh well, “Dumplings” is still a spectacle and that’s largely thanks to cinematographer Christopher Doyle. Every single shot of this film is breathtaking, helping you to better digest the abortion chomping. Who rules? Chris Doyle rules!
Chan-wook Park’s “Cut” finds the filmmaker carrying on his infamous brand of ultra-violent vengeance when a big time director comes home only to be subdued and tied up by a stranger. Upon his awakening, he finds his wife strung up to her piano in quite the creative fashion. The director’s captor then reveals himself to be an extra in all of his films. His beef with the director is that he has everything – a wildly successful career, a beautiful wife, huge home and…he’s a really nice guy. This last thing just tops it off for the aggravated extra as he can’t stand to see someone leading such a perfect life when he himself has lived in poverty since he can remember and in doing so, has become a terrible person that beats his wife and kids. And then there’s one more surprise person in the room with them – a little girl who the extra is forcing the director to kill, otherwise he’ll keep continue to chop off all of his wife’s fingers. So, it’s a long night of hard decisions, revealed secrets and, yes, some finger chopping with revenge being the ultimate main course. Again, this film, as the others, looks amazing and offers plenty for the jaded film lover to devour. For Chan-wook Park detractors out there, you should check out this entry to see what the man is capable of in the short form, it’s solid filmmaking that I can’t imagine many could deny. And for his fans, it’s a delectable appetizer before we get his third film in his vengeance trilogy.
So here it is, an arena rock type film event for lovers of Asian cinema. Good news is that you won’t have that annoying ringing in your ears the day after. Better news is that you’ll have food for thought way after witnessing these spectacles.