Like an Asian all-star horror anthology, 3 Extremes offers a trio of tales from three countries, each directed by one of said country’s most talented directors. However, with Takashi Miike, Fruit Chan, and Chan-Wook Park representing Japan, Hong Kong, and Korea respectively, it’s actually more like a cinematic Olympic event.
The film opens with the strongest story; Chan’s “Dumplings”, which tells the tale of, Ching Lee (Miriam Yeung Chin Wah), a middle-aged former television star desperately trying to win back her youth, as well as her estranged husband’s attentions. The woman turns to Aunt Mei (Ling), an urban witch known for a special dumpling recipe that promises to do just that. However, the price of the dumpling’s secret ingredient may be more than Ching is willing to pay.
Dumplings is a rare exercise in gross-out tactics that actually works, and features a pair of electrifying performances by Ling and Wah. Ling, especially, seems to relish the role of the deranged Mei, a woman whose depraved acts are offset by an eccentric charm, a humble nature, and a genuine sense that there is an undeniable skill and complicated history behind what it is she does. In the Western films that I’ve seen Ling in, she’s always played the same sort of quiet, mysterious and exotic woman/villainous, so I was surprised to see this side of the actress.
I felt this segment to be the most cohesive of the bunch, and, as with any good short, Dumplings left me wanting more (which we get, but I’ll explain that bit later).
Next up, we get Chan-Wook Park’s “Cut”, in which a famous Korean director and his pianist wife are tormented by a jaded extra from several of his films. The actor is angry that this successful man is also a wonderful human being, and threatens to cut off the director’s wife’s fingers unless the director does something cruel for once in his life. The actor then presents the director with a choice; strangle a small child that the actor has rounded up for the occasion, or watch as his wife loses one finger every five minutes.
Cut was a lot of fun, and featured the same sort of hyperactive filmmaking that made Park’s Oldboy such a joy to behold. While the story itself is silly and the motives of the actor are questionable at best (punishing the director for being a “nice guy”?), this segment is all about freaky visuals, cool atmosphere, and way-out black humor, and, on that level, it worked a charm.
Sadly, that cannot be said for Takashi Miike’s remarkably restrained entry, “Box”. The story of a woman suffering from recurring nightmares of being buried alive in an ornate box, this is the best looking segment (and, perhaps, the best looking work of Miike’s career), but is so quiet and deliberately paced that it seems out of place here. The story is a hodge-podge of supernatural horror elements, presented in a dreamy, surreal style that is meant to leave the viewer wondering if any of what they’ve seen happened at all. The story works as intended, but it lacks the charm and charisma that make Miike such an interesting filmmaker, and is the weakest entry in the lot.
This two-disc set from Lion’s Gate offers only a few extras, but that’s more than made up for by the inclusion of the feature-length version of Chan’s Dumplings! I was worried that the short story wouldn’t translate well to a full ninety minutes, but it does, and it’s fantastic. I’d run out and by Dumplings as a standalone feature at the drop of a hat, so to have it included as a “bonus” here makes this set a very attractive package indeed. The DVD also features commentary tracks by Miike and Chan (on the feature-length version of his film), as well as trailers.
3 Extremes surprised the hell out of me as, thanks to the massive influx of Asian horror, I’ve found myself growing weary of the genre’s staple themes. However, this film offered up a pair of visually arresting and interesting tales that gave me hope that there is more to this genre than ghostly little girls, haunted water, and deadly strands of flowing black hair. Highly recommended.