Fruit Chan, Park Chan-wook, Takashi Miike, 2004
Starring: Bai Ling, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Lee Byung-hun, Im Won-hee, Kyoko Hasegawa, Atusro Watabe
Harkening back to the horror anthology films of the ‘60s like Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, and many more, Three... Extremes is a trilogy of roughly 40 minute horror films by Hong Kong director Fruit Chan, South Korea’s Park Chan-wook, and Japan’s Takashi Miike. Three... Extremes is a loose sequel to Three (2002), an earlier trilogy with films by South Korea’s Kim Ji-woon (A Tale of Two Sisters, I Saw the Devil, and many more), Thailand’s Nonzee Nimibutr (Nang Nak), and Hong Kong’s Peter Chan (Comrades, Almost a Love Story). Three did not do well in the box office, so more of a focus was put on finding higher profile horror director for its sequel, Three... Extremes. The latter was successful enough that Three was eventually re-released as Three Extremes II in a ridiculous marketing ploy.
The first film is Fruit Chan’s Dumplings. An aging, though beautiful actress is desperate to restore her looks and her husband’s affections. She tracks down a local woman offering special dumplings with a secret ingredient guaranteed to revivify her. But at what cost? Possibly the most affective film in the trilogy, Chan relies on some thoroughly gross sound effects and slow scenes of dumpling eating for a compellingly disgusting little film about the pitfalls of vanity. Hong Kong actress and pop star Miriam Young is great in the starring role and there is a nice appearance from Hong Kong veteran Tony Leung Ka-fai (Prison on Fire, A Better Tomorrow 3, The Raid; not to be confused with Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) as her husband. Director Chan is known for such second wave Hong Kong films as Heart of Dragon, Made in Hong Kong, and Durian Durian. An extended version of Dumplings is available on the special edition DVD and as a stand-alone release from Tartan Films.
Park Chan-wook’s Cut follows this, though it is unfortunately the most inferior of the three films. Cut can be described as Park’s first true horror film, though his Vengeance trilogy Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance are known for their extreme violence and often horrific subject matter. In Cut, a young, successful director making a gory vampire film is kidnapped by one of his extras. He ties up the director on the film set and also elaborately ties up the director’s wife. She is a concert pianist and the extra has promised to cut off one of her fingers every few minutes unless the director does what he wants. This involves such sadistic things as damaging confessions, strangling a child, etc. Though beautifully shot, the clunky script is very Saw-like and there is some dated CGI work. To a certain extent, and thanks to Park’s use of black comedy, this feels somewhat like a spoof of the Saw/torture porn wave, but it is not far enough removed to be really successful. Park is one of my favorite directors working today, so I was disappointed to find that I did not like this film. It is worth watching for a wonderful performance by Im Won-hee, who plays the psychotic kidnapper, and famous South Korean actor Lee Byung-hun gives a good turn as the director.
The third and final film is Takashi Miike’s Box. For those of you familiar with Miike’s work, he’s known for his irreverently violent, shocking work, such as Visitor Q, Ichii the Killer, and Audition. Box is undoubtedly one of Miike’s most subtle and effective films and makes Three... Extremes well worth seeking out. A quiet young writer has disturbing dreams about being buried alive in the snow and begins looking for her missing sister only to discover/remember the horrifying truth. This slow, dreamlike short film is non-linear and flits back and forth between Kyoko’s present search for her sister and her childhood, with all manner of things in between. The story’s elegance lies in its simplicity and though it is somewhat similar in tone to Audition, complete with youthful ballet dancers and child abuse, Box is an excellent place to start for Miike virgins and a must-see for his fans. This comes highly recommended for the incredible visuals alone.
Pick up the 2-disc version, released by Lion’s Gate, which includes the extended version of Dumplings and a nice commentary track from Miike on Box. As I stated earlier, Box makes the whole trilogy worth watching, though the other two films are also worthy of your time, particularly if you’re a fan of recent Asian horror. It is also a great place to start for genre newcomers, as all three films are thoughtful, well made, and put the travesty known as Masters of Horror to shame.