Three... Extremes (2004)

Because of movies like Ringgu and Ju-on, among others, Asian horror in the late 1990s and early 2000s became known largely for creepy little girl ghosts with stringy hair.  It was an innovation that Hollywood lapped up rather quickly through a number of inferior remakes of the Asian films, but it did help to add a new angle to an old concept. 

However, there is much more to Asian horror than that - much of it that cannot be duplicated by Hollywood, as there is no way they would touch some of the movies that have come out of Asia and, indeed, many of the more extreme portions of the films they did remake were left out.  By the time they are remade they are dulled down to PG-13 lifelessness.

It is no surprise that Three... Extremes became popular with horror fans.  Here we have three tales by noted Asian directors that are willing to push boundaries and, happily, Hollywood has left them alone so far.

The first short film is Dumplings, directed by Fruit Chan.  Despite what most people think, this was not shortened from the feature film, but actually formed the basis of it.  An aging television star (Pauline Lau) believes that her husband (Tony Ka Fai Leung) no longer desires her, so she seeks out Auntie Mei (Bai Ling), a woman whose dumplings are said to have the power to keep one young.  Mei herself claims to be quite old despite appearing to be only in her 30s.  The dumplings' special ingredient is slowly revealed, as is the actress's lack of humanity.

Chan-wook Park (known largely for Oldboy and the Vengeance trilogy) directs the second piece, called Cut.  A famous director (Byung-hoon Lee) is disabled by an intruder (Won-hie Lim) when he arrives home, awakening to find his wife tied up with piano wire and her fingers superglued to a piano.  He himself is tied to a large band of rubber, making it hard to move.  The intruder turns out to be an extra who has performed in most of the director's films, and has targeted the director because he thinks he is a "good man" who has had too many things go right in his life, while the extra has had nothing but torment.  The director is given a choice of having all of killing a random child that was kidnapped by the stranger or having his wife's fingers removed one by one, and most likely ending with their murder. 

The third tale is from Japanese director Takashi Miike (Iichi the Killer, Audition).  In Box, Kyoko (Kyoko Hasegawa) is an author tortured by dreams of being buried alive in a small box by an unknown man.  She is also haunted by the ghost of her sister Shoko (Yuu Suzuki).  The reasons for the dream and the haunting are slowly revealed through flashbacks.

While all three films are on par with the directors' feature work, there is a great difference in style and content between each one.  This may be difficult for some as most horror anthologies tend to have a running theme throughout, and this one does not contain the usual wraparound story.  It also does not try to stick on any one theme other than presenting the work of the three directors.  That also means what viewers consider their favorite will largely vary depending on their affinity for the directors featured. 

For me, although Box is the best directed and most artistic, Dumplings stands out as the best of the three.  The reason is because of the questions it brings up about moral ambiguity, vanity and a whole number of issues, without Fruit Chan ever taking a moralistic stand on any of it himself.  Like Pauline Lau's character, initial revulsion gives way to curiosity even as we descend to further depths. 

What is disappointing about Cut is that it easily could have been the best of the three, but for some reason Park decided to go with an unneeded twist ending.  Things were pretty much wrapped (including an ambiguous situation that hinted that the director was definitely not out of the woods), and then in a misdirected attempt to do something artistic we get an ending that ruins everything that came before it.  There is nothing leading up to it - just a bad writing decision out of nowhere.

Box, again, is the best directed.  It also has a twist ending, but one that actually fits.  It also has a number of disturbing implications sprinkled throughout, but it is erased by an ending that is both shocking and sweet when it comes down to it.  It is disturbing in a normal horror sense, but not in the same moral context as Dumplings.

Three... Extremes (2004)
Time: 118 minutes
Starring; Bai Ling, Pauline Lau, Byung-hun Lee, Won-hie Lim, Hye-jeong Kang, Kyoko Hasegawa
Director: Fruit Chan, Chan-wook Park, Takashi Miike

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