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Following the style and format of the old television
Gallery, Three...Extremes showcases a trilogy of short films by master
directors of Asian cinema. In the order they appear in the U.S. release, these include
Hong Kong director Fruit Chans macabre meditation on the fountain-of-youth-themed
"Dumplings," South Korean Chan-Wook Parks self-consciously cinematic
psychodrama "Cut," and Japan cult director Miike Takashis much-praised
trauma drama "Box."
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The films billing as hybrid horror genre is somewhat misleading.
All three narratives do have much in common with the long string of American trashy
slasher films, going back to Hershell Gordon Lewiss 1963 cult classic Blood
Feast. But more notably, they partake of a specifically Asian cinematic taste for
sadomasochistic family romances. The acknowledged masterpiece of this tradition is Nagisa
Oshimas 1976 world-wide hit In
the Realm of the Senses, which re-enacts a famous "weird news" case from
1930s Japan, in which the sexual obsession between a man and a woman causes them to
forsake everything, including life itself. The genius of Oshimas films
narrative lay in how it pursued the theme of sexual obsession until Oshima had emptied it
of any sexual dimension whatsoever.
The shorts of Three
Extremes, however, celebrate their
sexual perversion, blending the sexual metaphors of carnality, gustation and desire as
vehicles of power. In each tale, an underlying, unresolved sexual obsession opens the door
to baser cravings for control over other people. In "Dumplings" (referring to
what is more popularly known as "potstickers" in the U.S.), for example, Mrs.
Qing Li (Miriam Yeung), a not quite so young wife, sets out to regain the sexual attention
of Sije Li (Tony Ka-Fai Leung), her husband, by visiting a former gynecologist (presented
as a modern-day witch) known as Aunt Mei (Bai Ling) in her prison-like working-class
high-rise cage of an apartment. Mrs. Li quickly embraces the diet of potstickers, steamed,
boiled, or pan-fried, slurping the crunchy critters with ever increasing pleasure. As she
and the audience come to know, viscerally, the source of the little meat hearts of the
dumplings, Chan intensifies his montage of human body fluids and body parts, gleefully
offering cannibalism, acts of abortion, and blood-disgorging sexual congress for the
In "Cut" (the title plays on both the notion of cutting with
knives and a directors command to "cut" a scene and ergo an actors
ego), fictitious film director Ryu Ji-Ho (Lee Byung-Hun) comes home to find his wife bound
to the family grand piano, her fingers simultaneously glued to the keys and attached to
wires which spiral into the walls and ceiling. A disgruntled extra (played by Lim Won-Hee)
has set a series of traps for Ryu, forcing the director to atone for being both rich and a
morally good person at the same time (something which enrages the poor, no longer humble
extra, frustrating his world view that the rich are morally bankrupt).
The absurdist challenges given Ryu (to strangle a child, to witness his
wifes fingers being chopped off one at a time, to morally debase himself in front of
the actor) are mirrored in the self-conscious way in which director Park plays with the
artificiality of film. Ryu leaves a sound stage after a days filming and returns to
his home, which is the sound stage he had just left. The actor portraying a man bitten by
a female vampire and left frozen on-stage turns up still frozen in Ryus home. The
little girl Ryu is commanded to strangle turns out to be someone else, and even Ryus
wife is cast in several different lights, depending on how a particular scene is being
acted out at any given moment.
Extremes is definitely an acquired taste of an
art-house subgenre type. The dim sum-like array of choices, glimpses into contemporary
Asian cinematic styles and prominent directors and actors, is noteworthy. The tension, of
balancing visceral horror with psychological sadomasochism, requires a disciplined viewer.
Whether this film achieves its pay-off depends upon the palate of the moviegoer, for this
is a rare delicacy indeed.
- Les Wright