One Extreme, One Strong, One So-So: Three… Extremes

November 8, 2008

d. Fruit Chan, Park Chan-Wook, Takashi Miike 

First of all I would like to make a correction. I have been erroneously labeling this horror anthology as J-Horror, when really it is one-third J-Horror, one-third K-Horror, and one-third HK-Horror.

The horror omnibus is nothing new, but here we get three Asian directors, known for their far-out takes on genre, presenting three short segments exploring the depths of horror that human desire leads towards. And make no mistake, this is horror in its real sense, not horror in the gory roller-coaster sense to which American audiences have grown accustomed and expect.

Beware The Crunchy Dumplings

Beware The Crunchy Dumplings

The first segment is “Dumplings” from Hong Kong director Fruit Chan. I admit to not being very familiar with this director’s work, but I will certainly be on the lookout from now on. I feel that this is strongest segment of the three in terms of shock value.

Basically, a middle-aged woman seeking to regain her youth visits another woman (Bai Ling, unrecognizable with out make-up and with clothes on) in her dingy apartment who is well-known for her “special” dumplings. The secret ingredient, and it’s pretty up-front about this within the first five minutes, is aborted fetuses. Whoah.

After watching this, you will never look or chew on a dumpling in the same way again. Watch out especially for the crunchy dumplings. The story is engaging from start to finish, and Bai Ling’s performance makes me realize how utterly wasted she is in her Hollywood roles, how much Hollywood has no idea how to cast her (similarly to Antonia Banderas, Penelope Cruz, Chow Yun Fat, et al).

The second segment, “Cut” is not as strong in gross-outs as “Dumplings”, but is just as engaging from start to finish, and arguably has the strongest script. Park Chan-Wook holds your attention with careful craft and with a fine cast. Basically, a director and his wife are targeted by an extra who rails against the imbalance of how good the director has everything in his life in comparison with his own. It becomes a game of wits when the extra makes the director prove how he isn’t always good by forcing him to choose between killing a young girl or having his wife’s fingers chopped off every five minutes.

Never Piss Off The Extras!

Never Piss Off The Extras!

The director, faced with this dilemma, goes through every emotion trying to keep the crazed extra from carrying out his deed while also trying not to kill the innocent kid. The twists and revelations as the blood starts to flow are arguably more rewarding here than those found in the first and last segments.

Finally, Takashi Miike’s segment, “Box”, finds its horror more rooted in the tension created by mood and pacing. In this story, a young woman, Kyoko, is haunted by the same dream of being buried alive in a box in a snowy field; she is also haunted by the ghost of a young girl. It is slowly revealed that this woman, when she was younger, had a sister, Shoko, and both performed in a circus of sorts as dancers/contortionists. Kyoko feels jealous of her sister when their teacher shows Shoko more favors. In trying to teach Shoko a lesson, Kyoko accidentally causes a fire which burns her sister to death. Years later, the teacher, who was wounded in the accident, confronts Kyoko about this incident.

This segment, while long on mood, short-changes in the end with a sudden twist that really makes little sense beyond a quickie shock. What I did like, in retrospect, is the way he shoots the two young girls doing their contortionist act; at first it appears like throw-away mood shots of the two in tandem poses, but what these shots do, in a subtle manner, is set up the twist at the end. Still, I was disappointed in this segment because it has a slow burn reminiscent of his excellent Audition, so it has the promise of something excellent in the build-up, but perhaps because of the time constraints, he rushed the ending.

Yeah, Kids Are Creepy

Yeah, Kids Are Creepy

In any case, this anthology is still worth renting as its depiction of horror is more rooted in the motivations and consequences of human desire rather than just the monster in the cellar type horror we find more often in the U.S.

“Dumplings”: **1/2
“Cut”: ***
“Box”: **
Overall: **1/2 

Next up, the J horror Uzumaki.


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