Three... Extremes Movie Review

As anthologies invariably tend to be disappointingly lopsided ventures, it's a welcome surprise to find that unevenness is the strongest facet of Three... Extremes, a diverse and successfully chilling horror triptych that brings together the short works of acclaimed directors Fruit Chan (Durian Durian), Park Chanwook (Oldboy), and Takashi Miike (Audition). Unrelated save for a shared fascination with female ghoulishness, the three segments form something of a rough primer for Asian horror newbies, with Chan delivering a dose of macabre black wit, Chanwook providing his usual brand of self-consciously bloody moralizing, and Miike contributing otherworldly, irrational J-horror spookiness. And though none come close to approximating the bone-deep scares elicited by Kiyoshi Kurosawa's 2001 Pulse (which receives a long-overdue stateside release in early November), the trio of stories - alternately caustic, gruesome, and bafflingly opaque - prove a welcome relief from the CG-infatuated, subtext-barren supernatural thrillers currently being dumped on moviegoers by Hollywood this Halloween season.

Progressing from its strongest to its weakest chapters, Three... Extremes (a sequel to 2002's Three) starts with the Hong Kong-native Chan's sumptuous Dumplings, a satiric tale of female vanity-gone-awry that began as a feature-length film (also titled Dumplings) but was cut down by the director to a compact 40-odd minutes for this cinematic compilation. Having not seen it in its original form, I'm unqualified to discuss the pluses and minuses of this editing-room abbreviation, yet Chan's entry is nonetheless an amusingly grisly piece of social commentary in which former TV star-turned-neglected trophy wife Mrs. Li (Miriam Yeung) finds the fountain of youth (and the remedy to her negative self-image) via witchy chef Aunt Mei's (Bai Ling) unique brand of dumplings. Revealing the special ingredient that makes Mei's culinary treats so physically and emotionally rejuvenating would be in bad taste, but suffice to say that Chan - riffing on Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal with the help of Wong Kar-Wai regular Christopher Doyle's disquietingly ethereal cinematography - deliciously lays bare modern society's unhealthy preoccupation with physical female beauty via one crunchy bite and a terrifying, serpentine lick of the lips.

Park Chanwook also strives for gallows humor in Cut, the story of a movie director (Lee Byung-hun) whose seemingly perfect life is slashed to ribbons after he and his pianist wife (Gang Hye Jung) are taken hostage by an extra (Lim Won-Hee) on a movie set that looks just like the director's ornately decorated home. Forcing his captive to either kill a young child with his bare hands or watch his musician wife's fingers be severed and shredded in a blender, the fiend reveals an upper class-lower class axe to grind, though the Korean Chanwook's vignette functions less as a treatise on classism than as another one of his portraits of man's inherent viciousness. Such pedantry is, as usual, simply Chanwook's justification for staging elaborate nastiness, but whereas his work usually reeks of hipster superficiality, here Chanwook's self-reflexive gestures - which result in a scabrous critique of his own reputation as a purveyor of ghastly, gratuitous gore - feel sharply honed and less overbearingly exaggerated. Plus, Chanwook's David Fincher-esque CG zooms and pull-backs, coupled with his stunningly sick imagery, strike a powerful visceral chord.

The same can be said of Takashi Miike's Box, which finds the prolific Japanese provocateur working in an ominous mode more akin to One Missed Call (cross-bred with HBO's Carnivàle) than Audition. Miike's submission charts the traumatic events which befall a novelist (Kyoko Hasegawa) who is visited by the pale-faced apparition of her long-dead kid sister...or, perhaps, simply sees this spirit in harrowing nightmares involving incest, full-body plastic bags, and being buried alive in the downy snow. Utilizing an oppressive silence and fragmented narrative to create a sense of sinister unease, Box feels untethered to reality even as its basic plot outline - about the ticked-off dead returning to exact revenge against those who wronged them - reveals itself to be straightforward to the point of ridiculousness. Yet because the director diligently strives for disjointed structural chaos bereft of reassuring logicality or coherence, it becomes near-impossible to determine whether the ongoing action is a dream or reality - an unsettling disorientation that fittingly caps off a trilogy in which madness and mayhem are de rigueur facets of everyday life.

Cast & Crew

Director : Fruit Chan, Park Chanwook,

Producer : , Fumio Inoue, Naoki Sato, Shun Shimizu, Ahn Soo-Hyun

Starring : Kyoko Hasegawa, Atsuro Watabe, Mai Susuki, Yuu Susuki, , Pauline Lau, Tony Ka-Fai Leung, Meme, , Miriam Yeung, Lim Won-Hee, Gang Hye Jung, Lee Jun Goo

Comments

Three... Extremes Rating

" Good "

Rating: R, 2004

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