Dumplings : Three ... Extremes
Reviewed by Toh Hai Leong
Director : Fruit Chan
Cast : Miriam Yeung, Bai Ling, Tony Leung Ka Fai
Country: Hong Kong
Language: Cantonese, Mandarin
Year Released 2004
Runtime: 90 min
[Special Note: there is another version of Dumplings: Three... Extremes, the 30-min segment of a 3-part Pan-Asian horror film, Three... Extremes. The other segments are by celebrated South Korean Park (Old Boy) Chan-wook - Cut - and cult Japanese director Takashi (Audition) Miike - The Box.]
Hong Kong's Applause Pictures presents this expanded version - at slightly over 90 minutes, of this quirkily pathological "horror", directed by indie New Waver, Fruit Chan (Public Toilet, Made in Hong Kong, Longest Summer), lensed exquisitely by Australian cinematographer Chris Doyle and produced by one of Applause's founders, Peter Chan. Director/producer Chan - the director/producer team based the unpalatable tale of human fetus-consumption B la Chinese dumplings on a novella by Lilian Lee.
Comedy actress Miriam Yeung, an ex-nurse-turned-actress teams up unlikely with Hollywood actress Bai Ling to induce shock and fright than guffaws.
Yeung plays an insecure, aging ex-TV star, Ching - to win back the love, passion and devotion of her increasingly distant, cold philandering millionaire husband, Lee (played by The Lover's Tony Leung Kar Fai). He is besotted now with his masseuse, and young nubile lasses, with the favorite one willing to produce him an heir apparent.
As the middle-aged high-society lady, Ching seeks out amoral, if not trashy sexy Auntie Mei (Bai Ling) to sample her famous and expensive youth-rejuvenating dumplings - to regain her lost youthful beauty.
The exacting photography of Chris Doyle shows clearly what Ching is eating ... the semi-opaque pinkish hue of the dumplings makes her ingestion a little uneasy initially ... and that makes for subtle shock value. And the mundaneness of it all like what evil really is - mundane! - thus makes this all the more fascinating and intriguing and yet pathologically sick ... it is akin to cannibalism if one considers the aborted 5-month fetus-child - not fully formed - as human!
Dumplings ... bears slightly implicit comparison or homage with the explicitly (over-the-top) gory Herman Yau's 1993 celebrated exploitation-horror true-life The Untold Story with the explicit central theme of cannibalism vis B vis the psychopathic killer (played with conviction and compassion by veteran Anthony Wong) who stealthily stuffs chopped -up human remains into buns or "paus" as we know it for the unwary and unknowing customers B la cops - to eat!
See the loose connection, if not homage, here. After all, Ching is consuming, later with relish, specially selected aborted human fetus and at 5 months it is considered human and this act constitutes "cannibalism" - for this case, it is for her to keep her beauty - or to "rejuvenate" ageing cells of past prime beauty. Ching thus develops a morbid obsession in the entire process of the making of these special dumplings to the extent she slurps down each one exquisitely. And Doyle's camera scrupulously follows her face, neck and hands lovingly.
The usually under-rated Bai Ling brings to her highly quirky animated persona a brassy, if not highly charged erotic energy which won her justly the two major awards of Best Supporting Actress in the Taiwanese equivalent of the Oscars, the Golden Horse Awards last year, 2004 and now the 24th Hong Kong Film Awards.
As Ching's skin gets the glowing radiance after the ingesting the special dumplings, the side effect of a fishy odor starts emanating from her, which luckily her high society women contemporaries could not pinpoint the source.
What director Fruit is criticizing with a subtle relish is the male dominant male patriarchal society's culture of desire and obsession with the transient beauty of woman. According to some close to this critic, inner beauty is what a woman should vie for and not that ugliness and amorality of such vain pursuit to remain like legendary Dorian Gray forever young and handsome (in this case, for women, "beautiful"!)