Three Extremes

Three Extremes

***

Reviewed by: Leanne McGrath

Three of Asia's premier horror directors each delivering a 40-minute tale of terror sounds like a dream - or should that be nightmare?

Sadly, the end result is not quite the spine-tingling scare-fest you expect. While the three Twilight Zone-style movies - Dumplings, Cut and Box - are not without merit, they are far from satisfying or truly terrifying.

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Most Asian horror offers up a large slice of the supernatural, often in the form of creepy, long-dead killers (Ring being the prime example) but Dumplings goes for gruesome over ghostly... and it is one of the most stomach-churning films I've ever had the displeasure to see.

There isn't slasher movie-style decapitations or buckets of blood - the story alone is enough to have you chucking up. There is no point to the short other than to disturb - a surprise and huge disappointment considering it was written by Farewell My Concubine scribe Lillian Lee. But there is a feature-length version of the movie, which perhaps develops the themes only briefly touched on here.

Ageing TV star Mrs Lee (Miriam Yeung) wants to recapture her lost youth and goes to visit Mei (Ling Bai), who makes dumplings that turn back the clock. But forget a Death Becomes Her-style magic potion and a few laughs - Mei's anti-ageing treatment is made from the cooked foetuses of aborted babies. All together now, "EEEWWWW". It gets worse... you get to see one of said foetuses after its grizzly home abortion and just before it gets sauteed. Now there's a version of Hell's Kitchen Gordon Ramsay has yet to try.

There are stylistic touches which save the film, as it is altogether too gruesome a concept to enjoy otherwise. Its themes of the desperate pursuit of youth are thought-provoking, though, and the movie also hints at an interesting social comment on China's one baby per family policy - particularly since the most potent anti-age foetuses are boys and they are rarely aborted - but it fails to fully develop this concept.

Next on the bill is Cut, from Korea's Park Chan-Wook. The acclaimed Sympathy For Mr Vengeance and Oldboy director serves up a sadistic revenge tale reminiscient of Saw - but this tale of torture could be a lot more bloody and shies away from any real gore.

It tells the tale of a likeable film director (Byung-hun Lee) who is kidnapped by one of the extras from his movies. The psychotic failed actor takes him to his movie set - incidentally a replica of his living room - where he is forced to witness his wife (Hye-jeong Kong) being mutilated.

His bride - looking truly terrified and yet almost comical with wild hair and a waterfall of running mascara - is sitting at the piano and tied up using an intricate, spiderweb-style system of piano wire - which could be used to inflict more inventive harm than is actually delivered.

Cut's saving grace is its twisted humour and bursts of unexpected ridiculousness - the extra demonstrating the roles he has played dressed as a soldier, doctor and even a swimmer, complete with flippers, are hilarious. His song and dance routine - complete with wacky faces Jack Black would be proud of - will also have you on the floor.

There are also wonderful fast tracking shots across the sets and quick, almost montage-like cuts to each character, brilliantly showing their fear, confusion and anger.

The final instalment is Box and it is the highlight of the disc, offering supernatural chills.

Young woman Kyoko (Kyoko Hasegawa) is haunted by nightmares of her child. Aged 10, she and her twin Shoko (Yuu Suzuki) performed as contortionists in a circus, with their star turn being their ability to fold themselves into a tiny box. But Shoko is killed in tragic circumstances and her twin is haunted by the past - literally.

A wonderful atmosphere of dread is introduced early on by Japanese director Miike Takashi, who brought us Audition.

The dark sets and solemn score lower the mood and create tension, while the Ring-style scene involving a little girl will put you firmly over the edge.

But the plot is confusing and the unexpected ending will have you scratching your head. But hey, at least this doesn't rely on gore to get a scare.

Reviewed on: 10 Sep 2006
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Three of Asia's premier horror directors deliver spine-tingling short tales of terror, torture and tormented twins.
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Director: Fruit Chan, Takashi Miike, Park Chan-Wook

Writer: Lillian Lee, Park Chan-Wook, Haruko Fukushima, Bun Saikou

Starring: Ling Bai, Miriam Yeung, Tony Leung, Miki Yeung, So-Fun Wong, Kyoko Hasegawa, Mai Suzuki, Yuu Suzuki, Byung-hun Lee, Won-hie Lim, Hye-jeong Kong, Dae-yeon Lee

Year: 2004

Runtime: 125 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Hong Kong, Korea, Japan

Festivals:

Sundance 2005

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