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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Three... Extremes Fruit Chan, Chan-Woon Park, Takashi Miike 2005

With Sick You Get Eggroll

Three... Extremes is an odd but ultimately fairly unsettling anthology of Asian horror (one Korean, one Chinese, one Japanese). The film follows the original Three, which was a similar pan-Asian collection of unrelated stories. Here, the “Extreme” signifier is just as vague as it sounds, as the common thread through the stories is still unpronounced; though the stories are grounded in reality, they seem to be about the latent evil in all of us – which really makes one of the film’s other titles, Three: Monster, more appropriate than the X-Games-generation-friendly “Extremes”. In other words: if you’re looking for a Mountain Dew commercial, look elsewhere.

The first segment, “Dumplings” (directed by relative newcomer Fruit Chan) is overall the strongest of the group. Ching (Miriam Yeung), a former television star, goes to the apartment of an underground dumpling maker (frequent GoFugYourself offender Bai Ling) in order to eat some of her famed “youth-restoring” dumplings. As Mei (Ling) prepares the dumplings for her customer, it becomes clear that the contents of the steamed little pillows might not exactly be kosher. But as Ching desperately wants to steal the attention of her husband from his young mistress, she’ll do anything to reclaim her former beauty. Although it’s pretty evident what’s going into these toxic appetizers from the beginning, it’s still pretty disgusting to watch (and gets even more so when Mei reveals herself to be a back-alley abortionist, in a fairly harrowing scene). Director Chan (besides boasting the weirdest name of the bunch) has the deftest hand in serving up this potent stew of gross-out humor, gorgeous yet disturbing imagery, and harrowing body terror – it’s like a Cronenberg film dipped in Hong Kong squalor. But even more importantly, it’s a sobering and well-presented look at how far we go to be attractive, without the standard final-act retribution that generally brings things to a balance. Remember the campy youth-crazed ladies of Death Becomes Her? This is more like Death Appetizes Her.

The second segment, directed by hot-stuff director Chan-Woon Park (Oldboy, Sympathy for Mister Vengeance) is easily the weakest of the three. “Cut” tells the story of a nice-guy movie director who leaves the set of his latest vampire movie to go home, which looks oddly exactly the same as the set, only to be attacked and wake up bound by a nameless assailant back on the set again. The wacko also has a little girl tied up on the couch and the director’s wife bound, glued, and wired to the grand piano, for some unknown reason. As the director tries to reason with the kidnapper (not very successfully, as the loon begins chopping off his wife’s fingers one by one), the running time of this one-gag joke starts to wear and unfortunately nothing at the conclusion is interesting enough to bring things back to life. In the end, the kidnapper was an extra on a few of the director’s films (which is in itself a funny idea that has loads of possibilities), the wife is actually a mistress (no idea why or if this matters) and the director may or may not be a total douchebag – I can’t really tell. Maybe if you have more of a palate for cheap slapstick mixed with sadism and over-the-top camp, you’ll still be interested enough by the ending to figure it out – I was counting the minutes until the next segment. Thank god the actor playing the Director (Byung-hun Lee) was pretty hot, which made things a bit more bearable.

Takashi Miike’s “Box”, while the most unsettling of the three films, nonetheless just doesn’t really feel like it belongs here. A joyless, brutally distressing tale about the fallout of child molestation, this story spares absolutely no one – least of all the victims, which is rather impolite, if you ask me. Nonetheless, his point is made: sleeping with your children is not really a good idea for anyone and will likely have repercussions down the line. Kyoko Hasegawa plays Kyoko (convenient), an apparently successful writer who is nonetheless a bit of a disaster – she is plagued by nightmares of being buried alive in a box and sees the ghost of what is apparently her dead sister everywhere she goes. She’s not very talkative, is fumbling through an incredibly awkward romance with her editor, and she’s just delivered another in what is likely a series of very disturbing books.

Kyoko is plagued by memories of her childhood, when she and her sister performed in a sort of acrobatic circus act that involved their curling themselves into little pretzels and locking themselves in small boxes. Their father, dressed as some sort of satyr or elf, would then throw darts at the boxes, which would pop open, with the girls no longer inside. The whole thing is actually quite eerie and beautiful. But it becomes clear that Kyoko’s sister was father’s favorite, which extended to her sharing his bed (the girls can’t be more than 10, so this is incredibly creepy). Kyoko was horribly sad and jealous that her sister got more of their father’s attention, and exacted a plan to take her place for just one night – a plan that goes horribly wrong, ending in tragedy.

And tragedy is the name of the game here – as if it weren’t sad enough that a little girl would actually feel that NOT being molested by her father meant that she wasn’t loved (very tricky psychology going on here, no?), her desperate actions lead to even more sadness. It’s a cycle of abuse and pain that would be just plain sadistic were it not presented with such melancholy beauty – Miike (whose films I generally find juvenile and boring, with the exception of the pitch-perfect Audition and the amusingly insane Visitor Q) has delivered the most measured, haunting film of his career. It’s quite a downer following the other 2 shorts, which are downright wacky by comparison, and will leave you with a sinking feeling in your stomach for a good hour or so, if it hits you just right.

In all, I’m a huge fan of anthology movies, if only because the amount of creative input is that much larger and your odds of getting at least one good film out of the bunch is that much greater. And in the case of Three: Extremes, two out of three ain’t bad. I would have preferred if the stories themselves had a bit more in common, but that’s a minor complaint, especially since the first and third segments stand so strongly on their own. Overall you’re in for an experience that will leave you a little shaken, and a little stirred – just the way I like them. Definitely one of the stronger horror releases of the year, and a promising continuation of a great concept.

Note: I saw this film when it screened at the New York City Horror Film Festival. Thanks, guys!

 

Rating (out of 5):