Reviewed by Soh Yun-Huei
Directors: Fruit Chan, Miike Takashi, Park Chan-wook
Writing Credits: Fukushima Haruko, Lee Lilian, Park Chan-wook
Cast: Lee Byung-hun, Kang Hye-jeong, Yum Jung-ah, Akaboshi Mitsuru, Bai Ling, Goo Lee Jun, Tony Leung Ka Fai
Countries: Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea
Languages: Cantonese, Japanese, Korean
Year released: 2004
Runtime: 118 min
Ratings: Box: **½ (out of four stars)
Dumplings: ** (out of four stars)
Cut: *** (out of four stars)
Overall: **½ (out of four stars)
The three short films in Three: Extremes are not horror movies in the strictest sense, because despite marketing that seems to allude to their being tales of horror, they are merely mildly disturbing at best, and a slight waste of time at worst. The pedigree of directors this time round is strong Japanese director Miike Takashi (of the famed Audition, among others) helms Box, Hong Kong director Fruit Chan (Made in Hong Kong, Hong Kong Hollywood) is behind Dumplings, and Korean director Park Chan-wook (the soon-to-open Old Boy) directs Cut. This naturally leads to raised expectations, and a hope that the short films will break out of the mold and rut that Asian horror films have been in ever since The Ring was released. Unfortunately, although they do not fall into the trap of predictable Asian horror, Three: Extremes disappoints.
The three films all have relatively simple storylines. In Box, a female writer is haunted by memories from her past, where she used to be one part of a circus acrobatic magic act, and had committed a heinous crime out of jealousy. In Dumplings, an aging starlet visits a woman who cooks "special dumplings", filled with the flesh of human foetuses, in an attempt to look younger and make sure her husband does not stray. In Cut, a director of horror films finds himself and his wife prisoners of a movie extra, and can only escape his demented clutches if they agree to an act of senseless murder.
All the stories look like they have promise, but each share the unfortunate fate of having the tale apart when it reaches the denouement. Box is easily the most pleasing to the eye, but it comes with a totally inexplicable storyline that fails to make much sense no matter how you try to dissect it, and an ending that though unpredictable, feels even more incoherent that what precedes it. Miike tries to create a plausible/implausible tale out of the tortured memories of a troubled woman, but only succeeds in the latter. Dumplings is much ado about nothing, harping on the concept of eating human foetuses for almost the entire time, and then slapping on an absurd supernatural subplot near the end that achieves nothing and contributes nothing to the film. It also ends abruptly, with not much of a closure to the open plot threads, and feels frustratingly hasty and incomplete. (Perhaps that is why a full-length Dumplings has been released, to help make head and tail of this film.)
Cut is the best of the lot, unraveling the tale with a wicked tongue in the cheek, and the subversive humor found throughout the film makes the audience laugh and yet feel uneasy about laughing. It gets ridiculously absurd at times, such as the sudden song-and-dance interlude in the middle of the film, but that contributes to the odd charm of Cut. However, once again the conclusion of Cut threatens to undermine everything that has gone on before that, and the twist is a supremely unsatisfying one.
I had really expected more from Three: Extremes, especially since the lineup is quite strong, both in terms of acting and direction. However, the film is scuppered by poor writing, and the strengths in its other aspects do not manage to obscure the glaring flaws, leading to a diminished cinematic experience. One other positive point about Three: Extremes there is only one long-haired female ghost in all three shorts, and that can never be a bad thing.
Final Word: More aesthetically pleasing than the first Three, but Three: Extremes is still a mixed bag of offerings that comes off as being slightly disappointing.