Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Three…Extremes is a 2004 collection of three short horror films from three of East Asia’s top film directors. It was released as a sort of exhibition experiment, but unlike other kitschy movie experiments of its kind, the filmmakers clearly put a good deal of time and money into these 45 minute vignettes. This means the visuals and the production values are really fantastic. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean the movies are all that good or all that scary. In fact, I’d say none of them were scary at all. The only one that comes close was the third one, but I wouldn’t describe even it as scary. The bad news is that none of them are all that great or frightening, the good news is the last two (and especially the third) were at least interesting and a little engaging. The first of the three is called Dumplings and is by Chinese director Fruit Chan, known primarily for Jackie Chan flicks and goofy Chinese comedies. It is by far the least worthwhile of the three. Chan is way out of his league here and serves up a dish that’s little more than disgusting and inappropriate. It’s way too on the nose about some of China’s more abhorrent practices and is never, even for a moment, frightening. It tells the story of a washed up actress who is obsessed with regaining some of her youth. She meets an odd woman who claims to have dumplings that will give you otherworldly health and vitality. The ‘scare’ comes when we learn just what’s in those dumplings. It’s too bad all of us watching it guessed it from the very beginning and were yawning our way through the rest. The second is the far better Cut, directed by Korean director Chan Wook Park, who is best known for his vengeance trilogy Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy and Lady Vengeance, and containing the really good performance of Byung-hun Lee. Park has a fantastic eye and clearly a vast knowledge of cinema history. His movies are visually stunning and contain good performances, but their themes are so consistent that they border on straight up repetition. For example, he’s downright obsessed with the themes of revenge and manipulation. His antagonists want to control and manipulate the worlds of their victims, driving the protagonists mad. Here is no different. The director of a film comes home to find an extra who has totally snapped that day. The extra sets up a Saw-esque situation for the director where he must choose to do something awful or else the extra is going to chop off a finger of the director’s wife every five minutes. So, once again, we have a bad guy who attempts to control and his victim like a marionette, quite literally here, and in an attempt to exact some revenge on him. It’s ok and is much better than Dumplings, but it’s still not fantastic or anything. The third is better still and is by Japanese filmmaking badass Takashi Miike. It’s called Box and is about a woman living with her memories of a tragedy that she inadvertently caused as a 10-year-old and that has all but suffocated her ever since. Her obsessions come to a head in a tense, emotional end climax that is clearly stemming from madness. It’s very well shot and well acted. The lead is really fantastic. Sounds great, right? Well, not so fast. The ending is awful. I mean, so bad it made me forget how good everything before it was. It was so out of sync with the rest of the movie that it truly ruined it for me. But oh well. Long story short, if you’re a cinophile and love to at least see what the great minds out there are doing, it’s worth a cursory look, but otherwise, I’d probably just skip it unless you happen to come across it flipping around on some lazy Saturday afternoon.

Saturday Afternoon

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