Again, much has been said about this instant classic already, but after seeing so many insipid Asian ‘horror’ films lately, I was greatly rewarded by Three: Extremes. I watched the Hong Kong release (above) which has very good English subtitles.
It’s an anthology of three short horror stories by different directors, Fruit Chan from Hong Kong, Chan-Wook Park from South Korea, and Takashi Miike from Japan.
It's also a follow-up to the less successful Three (aka Three: Memories) made in 2002. Confusingly this previous film is about to be released on DVD as a sequel and called Three Extremes 2.
There’s also a spin-off movie which expanded one of the short tales into feature-length, called Three Extremes: Dumplings. Got all that? Together with different release titles in different countries, it’s not surprising that there's confusion.
It’s also strange that three different Asian countries should be lumped together, but that’s the nature of the West’s perception of Asian horror, I guess.
The first story in Three: Extremes is called 'Box', Takashi Miike’s most adult film since Audition. Artistically beautiful to look at, and impeccably acted. The story soon turns to a dark sexual side that shows the extremes that this Three is prepared to deal with.
It begins with a young novelist, haunted by dreams of being buried in a small box, discovering that she’s being haunted in real life by her twin sister. They used to be a double act in a small circus, but jealous that her sister was getting more attention from a magician, she tries to even the score, with tragic results. Mostly taking place in the winter, the snow makes her torment very picturesque.
Miike makes this effortlessly creepy almost straightaway. It’s also sensual, in a disturbing way, beautiful and distressing at the same time, creepy and alarming. A compelling short film. Possibly my favourite.
The second, 'Dumplings', directed by Hong Kong’s Fruit Chan, is the most famous and sickest of the three, becoming so popular that the producers soon released an expanded feature-length version. The subject matter is almost unbelievable, but entirely possible.
A rich but fading TV actress tries to fight off middle-age by visiting Aunt Mei, a modern day witch who makes the most expensive dumplings in town. What can she possibly cook that will return youthful looks? The answer is pretty awful, and has to do Mei's previous profession as an abortionist...
The ghastly tale is beautifully rendered by Christopher Doyle’s colourful cinematography. The tale is also rich with subtexts about the differences between Hong Kong and China, superstitions transcending class, and the pressures on women deserted by their husbands for younger women. It’s a multi-layered story and understandably easy to expand (unlike the other two tales).
The third 'Cut' is the first disappointing film that I’ve seen from Chan-Wook Park, whose 'Vengeance' trilogy I rate as being my favourite films from South Korea (Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, Oldboy and Lady Vengeance). It felt to me like he was trying way too hard, including flashy one-take, impossible tracking shots (inspired by Panic Room, no doubt).
A movie director is held hostage on the set of his latest production. He's tied to the wall, his wife is superglued to a piano (!). If he doesn't comply, his wife is going to start losing fingers...
I found the premise for the hostage-taker's grievance unconvincing, and the final outcome didn't feel logical. It’s a great set-up and there’s some genius flourishes and twists, but in the company of the other two tales, it looked like the weakest.
Having said that, the climax made me feel the queasiest due to the amount of bloodshed!
So, if you like your horror films extreme (like the prolonged agony of Audition's climax), but thought it was slow, here’s a tale that delivers much, much faster. Creepy, gory, well-made, almost full marks!
Do you want to know more?
There’s a longer synopsis, full of screengrabs and spoilers at Dragon's Den UK...
Three: Extremes is out on Region 2 PAL DVD, with Three Extremes 2 due out later in the year.