he release of the Asian horror anthology
"Three...Extremes" on DVD comes as a bit of a dilemma to
international moviegoers who had already seen one of the three stories,
Fruit Chan's "Dumplings",
when it was released earlier in full-length version. As with the original
years ago, the sequel consists of three horror tales from three different
countries directed by three noted men. (As of right now, all six directors
have been men. If there is a third anthology (and really, why wouldn't there
be, considering the success of the last two?), it would be interesting to
see a horror tale from a female's point of view.
"Extremes" starts the
fun with "Box", directed by the prolific Takashi Miike (and let's
face it, it's impossible to write Miike's name without tagging it with the
word "prolific"), who weaves a slow, contemplative story about an
isolated female writer who is having dreams of being buried alive. We come
to learn that the woman, Kyoko (Kyoko Hasegawa), once had a twin sister, and
as young girls the two were acts in their father's traveling circus. In a
case of sibling rivalry gone terribly wrong, Kyoko locks her sister in the
trunk that they use as part of their act, resulting in the sister's death.
Now, years later and all grown up, Kyoko is being visited by what seems to
be a ghost. Is her sister coming back for revenge?
Representing Hong Kong (who, along with the South
Korean delegation, returns from the original "Three" -- with
Thailand being absent this go-round in favor of Miike's Japan), is Fruit
Chan, whose "Dumplings" I had already reviewed here.
Starring Miriam Yeung as an aging starlet trying desperately to hold onto
her youth as well as her husband, the story is shot by famed
cinematographer Christopher Doyle ("2046").
The 40-minute version available in this anthology tells the same tale
except for the ending. Here, the alternative ending offers up a different
fate for Yeung's character, and marks the only reason not to skip this
section completely if you've already seen Chan's movie in full-length
The last segment, "Cut", is written and
directed by "It" director Chan-wook Park, whose "Oldboy"
is one of the most hyped and critically acclaimed films in a long while.
"Cut" is the story of a hotshot film director (Byung-hun Lee,
"Joint Security Area")
who comes home only to get knocked out. He wakes up to find his wife
strung up by wires and her fingers super glued to a piano, while he has a
rope tied around his waist to limit his movements. The culprit is an
actor, a faceless movie extra, who has gotten it into his head that the
director has had it too good for too long and needs to be taught a lesson.
A poor, self-pitying piece of scum who wants to exact revenge on the
handsome and talented director because his own life has been filled with
misery, the villain is cruel for the sake of being cruel, even offering
the director an ultimatum: kill an innocent child, or watch the villain
chop off his wife's fingers one by one.
Of the three, Fruit Chan's "Dumplings"
feels the most rounded, an abstract conclusion that is the direct result
of this reviewer having seen the 90-minute version, something
"Cut" and "Box" can't hope to achieve due to their
edited down 40-minute running time. If I had only seen the 40-minute
segments of each film, I would probably pick Miike's "Box" as
the best film of the lot. Not only is it the most accomplished in terms of
visuals and pure style, but also because lead actress Kyoko Hasegawa is
smoldering, bringing barely restrained sexuality to a story that doesn't
have a single hint of nudity.
Of the three, Chan-wook Park's "Cut" fares
the worst, at least by comparison and simply on the basis that there
doesn't seem to be that much to the story beyond the surface. Granted, if
one was intent on digging deeper, I suppose there's something to be said
about the complex motivations of the pathetic villain played by Wong-hie
Lim ("This is
Law"), a man who has no interest at all in justifying his
actions. In the film's most humorous moments, Lim's character forces Lee's
director to come up with one sin that proves he (the director) isn't the
perfect, good man the villain thinks he is. Byung-hun Lee's strained face,
as he tries mightily to come up with a fault, is worth a laugh. Which is
one of the segment's problems -- it's sometimes too funny to be as intense
as it should be.
But it's Miike's "Box" that stays with you,
if just for the sensual turn by Kyoko Hasegawa, who in an amazing scene
radiates raw sexual energy by just taking off her coat. Much of
"Box" is infused with hints of sex and violence, even though
neither ever shows up in any gratuitous quantity. In a lot of ways,
"Box" is in contrast to Miike's earlier works, and the director
is impossibly restrained, forced to rely on story and a captivating
leading lady to lure the audience in rather than throw buckets of blood
and ejaculation at the screen as Miike is sometimes wont to do.
Although the release of Fruit Chan's
"Dumplings" on DVD before the "Extremes" anthology
brings forth some problems (one of which is that you're basically paying
for two DVDs to see the same 3 stories when you could have just bought one
and seen the same 3 stories), it also introduces a most intriguing notion.
That is, if Chan's "Dumplings" was a better movie as a 90-minute
version, how much better could Miike's "Box" and Park's
"Cut" be with an additional 50 minutes tacked onto each? In the
case of "Cut", there might be a problem, as the film is
essentially about four people trapped in one location, and there doesn't
seem to be a lot of tangents for the story to go in order to fill up the
extra time. On the other hand, "Box" is more traditional in a
narrative sense, and it would be interesting to see an elongated version
of Kyoto's battles with her dreams and her sense of what is real and what
As an anthology, "Three...Extremes" is a
lot stronger than the original, with all three segments this time around
able to hold their own. The original was terribly disjointed, with a
terrible Thai segment, a derivative Korean segment, and a spectacular Hong
Kong effort that managed to salvage the film. "Extremes" does
one better, with Miike's "Box" coming across as more
contemplative, Chan's "Dumplings" giving off that kooky vibe,
and Park's "Cut" going for insane hysteria. Combined, these
three separate little movies make for a highly entertaining whole movie.