Three Extremes is a short movie compilation featuring the works of three prominent directors in the Asian independent film scene. Much like its predecessor Three, (aka Three Extremes II, which despite its name, is two years older and not a sequel), each film also hails from a different country, giving us a taste of three distinct styles simmered in the flavor of their respective cultures. From the haunting, to the delicious, to the twisted, fans of the weird and wonderfully horrific will find purchase with this collection.
Get your spoons ready and don’t worry about the crunchy bits … Three Extremes is a three-course meal in uniquely crafted horror served up by some of the industry’s finest directors.
Part I: Box
(Japan, directed by Takashi Miike)
A reclusive, expressionless woman has a reoccurring dream wherein she’s locked inside a box and buried. As she struggles to maintain focus in her waking life, we are shown scenes that may or may not be flashbacks or dream sequences, as we learn of her supposed past as a carnival sideshow contortionist, a sister with whom she rivaled, and the subsequent, inadvertent murder of said sister. Guilt-ridden and given to nightmares, the woman’s world twists between reality and fantasy, leaving us to decide which is which in the end.
The consensus seems to be that Box is the weakest installment of the three, mostly due to the fact that it’s not very “extreme” in any sense of the word, a thing fans have come to lust for in Miike’s flicks especially. I don’t blame them; when I watch Miike, I expect the same level of face-flaying, limb-sawing, lactating goodness that he’s known for. However, true fans of his work know that he jumps genre more often than an American director jumps cuts. In this film, Miike seems to be channeling the “vengeful ghost” phenomenon made famous by films like Ringu and Ju-On (and for you gamers, the Fatal Frame series should also come to mind), a trend which has unfortunately been milked (no pun intended) dry.
More like LACKtation. (Scene from Visitor Q)
Missing moo juice aside, this film is beautifully shot, and though the contrast of ice and fire might seem a bit heavy-handed in its concept, it is executed gorgeously, reminding us that Miike, with nearly a hundred films under his belt, knows what he’s doing behind a camera. Box is decidedly more artistic than it is shocking or horrific, and though it does deliver a few creepy moments (a doll-twisting scene heavy on the sound effects, for instance) aside from some light pedophilia and a slightly rapey hatefuck in the penultimate scene, there isn’t much to satisfy one’s more sadistically voyeuristic nature here. Somewhat mediocre both in this collection and in Miike’s overall catalog, Box is a simple, easy lead-in to what in contrast is a much more entertaining set of films.
Part II: Dumplings
(Hong Kong, directed by Fruit Chan)
Aging actress and jilted lover Mrs. Li seeks to regain her lost beauty by any means necessary. When she hears of a Fountain of Youth in the form of a backdoor dumpling operation, she heads into the slums to find the eccentric Aunt Mei, a cook with little means and even less scruples. After dining on the mysterious mixture inside Aunt Mei’s signature cuisine, Mrs. Li’s youth indeed begins to return, enough so that her husband can once again stand to look at her long enough in order to screw her/let her spit in his mouth.
Foreplay, Hong Kong style.
It’s not hard to guess early on what Aunt Mei’s secret recipe is, but a trip to the abortion clinic with lunchbox in hand pretty much cinches where we’re heading with this one. You won’t see any remorse on the part of the women involved however, as each displays a chilling, self-serving nature that would likely send members of our GOP into a frothing, stroke-inducing fit of manly outrage.
I can murder my baby but not chow down on it afterwards? FUCKING PATRIARCHY
I won’t mince words here either: Dumplings is why you want to see Three Extremes in the first place. Easily the best of the three features, its popularity eventually led to adorably-named director Fruit Chan to release a full-length feature of the film. This one does not skimp on the disturbing, from a blood-soaked abortion scene to the stomach-turning sound effects as Mrs. Li bites down into the end product. The performances from each leading lady are great, but actress Bai Ling really steals the show here as the dumpling-slinging Aunt Mei, bringing a feisty performance to an already oddball character. With her messy hair, a fuck-all attitude and a baby-chopping business ethic, she’s a gal after my own dark heart.
mmm… still has that new baby smell
Part III: Cut
(South Korea, directed by Park Chan-wook)
This last film segues nicely from dumpling slurping to blood-slurping, as we open up on a vampiric scene inside an ornately mod designed room. The camera soon pulls back to reveal a film crew, and we see that we’re in a film-within-a-film, the star of this installment playing the part of movie director Ryu Jin-Ho. A brief interlude where we follow the director leaving work, and this happens:
My sentiments exactly.
At home we find that the director lives in a perfect copy of the film set we opened with, complete with a full sized grand piano. A power outage followed by noises in the dark tell us he’s not alone, and after a vague image of a man with an aerosol can, it’s light’s out for our protagonist. When Ryu comes to, the game begins. Bound and secured by a retractable tether, the director wakes to find his wife also bound and situated at the piano by a complex, Saw-esque contraption made of wires. Enter the “Stranger,” a man he doesn’t know, who seems to know quite a lot about him and his work.
The kidnapping starts out innocently enough with some humorous costume changes from the Stranger in an effort to jog Ryu’s memory of him, but quickly degenerates into Mrs. Director’s little pianist pinky being cleaved off. We soon learn that the Stranger is a former extra, having worked on several of director Ryu’s films, and his motivation for this crime more a commentary on class structure than anything. After recalling the time Ryu had done him a kindness, the Stranger decided that it wasn’t fair for Ryu to have wealth, fame and a decent nature to boot, and so he’s decided to come in and fuck some of that shit up.
Heeeerrre’s … uh, this guy
Unfortunately Ryu won’t be Hadouken’ing his way out of this one. The Stranger presents an ultimatum: he will let them go if Ryu commits a sin, namely, if he strangles the sweet little life out of another kidnapping victim, this one a little girl. In the meantime, the Stranger goads our director into admitting that his life is far from perfect. Some more dialogue and a delightfully odd dance scene fold well into the chaos, teetering this film back and forth between the unsettling and the absurd. After being chided into a confession, Ryu owns up to his adulterous nature, apologizes to his wife … aaand then berates her for being the shallow, money-grubbing whore she is, launching into a full-on character assassination. This all culminates in the admission that Ryu doesn’t care if she loses her fingers or not, since she’s a no-talent cumsponge. See kids? Money can’t buy happiness after all.
It can buy you some nice kitchen accessories, though.
Park Chan-wook, legendary director of Oldboy and the rest of the Vengeance Trilogy, gives us this last installment, a kidnapping/hostage situation with a madman pulling the er … strings. Psychologically tormented characters seem to be a theme of Chan-wook’s, and he does not disappoint here. Shot mainly in a single location, this movie equivalent of a bottle episode is again reminiscent of the first Saw film in its simplicity, showing that a big budget isn’t always necessary with a capable director at the helm. It’s an entertaining addition to this compilation, but I don’t feel this particular film exactly accomplishes what it’s setting out to do. There is nothing especially shocking or unique in this, what I consider an apt addition in the serial-killer-torments-his-victims department. An unnecessary (and not entirely clear) twist at the end confuses further, leaving things a little messy, and not in a good way.
This. This is the good way.
IMDB for this flick
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Categories: asian horror