Foreign horror movies are inchin’ up my list of favorite sub-genres, and films like Three…Extremes (Sam gang yi, 2004) are an example of why: strong characters within an intriguing story that exposes the potential for horror in everyday life. I watched it via Netflix Watch Instantly on 12/31/2009.
3 1/2 stars out of 5
The film contains three segments, each with its own director, and each with very different stories. There isn’t a lot of gore, as compared to what I’ve come to expect from extreme Asian horror, but there’s an abundance of bizarre imagery and creepy feelings. And for all us English-only folks, subtitles are provided.
The segments were presented in the following order:
Dumplings – directed by Fruit Chan (China), written by Lilian Lee
How far would you go – who would you sacrifice – to stay young and beautiful?
I enjoy finding scenes in new films to replace old ones stuck in my head. For example, the scene from It (1990), when the friends come together for dinner, never fails to flash in front of my eyes as the fortune cookies are placed on the table at my favorite Chinese restaurant.
Now when I attempt to eat won ton soup, Mrs. Li slurping down those dumplings comes to mind …and that’s not necessarily a good thing since I don’t long to test my gag reflex. Although, neither the scene from It nor the scene from Dumplings can beat the executive’s lunch in Audition (Odishon, 1999).
Dumplings is my favorite of the three segments for two reasons: First, the film addresses a topic all of us – okay, mostly women – wrestle with as the years start to pile up and the wrinkles grow more visible. Second, the sound effects are top-notch and used to 100% effectiveness.
On top of those two reasons, the actresses are excellent and the subplot carries a message almost as powerful as the main one. The last scene is a prime example of all these elements coming together. I moved away from the screen just a skoach during the last shot, which presents a character’s selfish acceptance reminiscent of the last scene in Teeth (2007), when Dawn is obviously at peace with who she is and what she has to do to survive.
A word of caution: If you cannot stomach child violence, even when it’s only implied, then you might want to skip this segment. I have a hard time watching babies and/or children abused or tortured or killed, but I made it through this film with only a mild case of nausea, which could be attributed to the excellent storytelling and direction.
Click to visit the filmmaker’s page on IMDb.
Cut – directed by Park Chan-Wook (Korea), written by Park Chan-Wook
How can you say you’re ‘good’ when you haven’t done anything ‘bad’…really, really bad?
Okay, I admit this is my least favorite of the three segments. The male protagonist is just a little too cold and the antagonist acts more silly than psychotic, which I suppose could be the actors’ interpretations of the characters. Whatever the reason, I couldn’t connect with the characters or the story. After watching twice, I’m not 100% sure whether this story takes place in reality or if it’s a dream. Or if it’s a movie within a movie.
In Cut, a film director, portrayed as being a good person, is kidnapped, along with his wife, by a former extra, who has some major mental issues. Scene-by-scene we see more of the director’s flaws as the psycho killer forces him into a decision any “good” person would be horrified to make.
The story flows at a smooth pace with adequate backstory, foreshadowing and flashbacks, so I feel I get all the necessary information. However, the end is where most viewers may scratch their head and question their decision to stick with this segment. The thematic elements of jealousy and revenge are pretty easy to spot and my gut tells me to take the entire film at face value: A good man stretched to his limit can snap and do bad things.
Click to visit the filmmaker’s web site.
Box – directed by Takashi Miike (Japan), written by Haruko Fukushima, based on the story by Bun Saikou
Can you live your life to the fullest if you’re tied to the mistakes in your past?
This segment scared me. It also made me think…a lot. I’m still not really sure if my idea of the movie is anywhere near what the filmmaker and writer intended; nonetheless, I’ve had fun trying to figure out the whole thing. And like I already mentioned, this segment is super creepy. The imagery and the atmosphere play off each other to create an undeniable feeling of discomfort and dread.
Box starts off in the midst of a female novelist’s recurring dream. The dream is about twin sisters, who perform in a circus sideshow, the finale of which features their male guardian – their father? – locking them each in a box then making them disappear. There’s some jealousy between the sisters; a hint of incest, if that is their father; and an innocent ploy for attention with horrible consequences.
That’s about all I know for sure.
The rest is pure imagination on my part, but I don’t want to ruin your chance to spend hours rehashing the story so I’ll stop there. I found Miike’s imagery breathtaking; full of emotion and believable even in the weirdest moments; but this is definitely the least gruesome Miike film I’ve seen to date.
Click to visit the filmmaker’s page on IMDb.
If you’re a Netflix subscriber, you can watch Three…Extremes here.
Or, you can purchase the DVD on Amazon.