Sunday, October 10, 2010

3 Extremes

2004. Rated R, 126 minutes.
Note: 3 Extremes is made up of 3 short movies by 3 different directors which I will review separately. This is different than Snoop Dogg's Hood of Horrors which I reviewed as one movie because these are not only by different directors but don't claim in any way to be connected with the others. In SD's HOH the shorts were all by the same director & connected to the story of Snoop's character who played host. Finally, I cheated a bit and actually watched the full-length feature for Dumplings (included on a separate disc) so that will get the full review while the others get shorter reviews.

Directed by Chan-Wook Park.
Byung-hun Lee
Won-hie Lim
Hye-jeong Kang

A big-time movie director (Lee) comes home from a long day at work to what he thinks is an empty house. However, an intruder (Lim) surprises him & knocks him out cold. When he comes to he has his hands cuffed & is tethered to the wall by a bungee cord. Across the room his wife (Kang), a professional pianist, is elaborately restrained to her seat with her mouth gagged & fingers superglued to the keys of a piano. The intruder then begins to give the director ultimatums with the hacking off of his wife's fingers one at a time serving as the consequences for not making the desired decision. The story takes place almost entirely in one room (except for a few minutes). Even though its very brightly lit & glossy looking the setting & subtle camera work still gives it a claustrophobic feel. The tale contains enough of the director's trademark unsettling twists to keep you somewhat guessing but mostly disturbing you. For those unaware of those twists, Park also directed the Trilogy of Vengeance: Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance & Lady Vengeance. See those for a lesson in twists that screw with your head (I'm talking to YOU M. Night I'masham). Back to this movie, its a wild watch thats at times funny, at times seems reflective (I'm sure the director in the film represents, in some measure, the director of the film) and all the time twisted.

SCORE: 8/10

Directed by Takashi Miike.
Kyoko Hasegawa
Yuu Suzuki
Atsuro Watabe

A novelist (Hasegawa) has recurring nightmares of being buried alive. That simple premise has been done before but this takes things in a whole new direction. Its a winding road that deals extensively with sibling rivalry & touches on insanity, hints at pedophilia & dwells on a plain old guilty conscious. It moves at a methodic pace perfectly complemented by Hasegawa's somber performance. Among the three it seems the least suited to be stretched into a full-length feature but for a short it works well and has an Edgar Allan Poe feel to it. However, since its not nearly as violent or manic in nature like Cut or Miike's most famous work, the live-action anime Ichi the Killer, its strangeness is more likely to turn people off. For those that stick with it we get the sort of delightfully weird ending that we would watch such a movie for.

SCORE: 7.5/10

Directed by Fruit Chan.
Bai Ling
Miriam Yeung
Tony Leung

Plot: After 15 years of marriage, Mrs. Lei (Yeung) has lost her husband's attention to younger women. In hopes of regaining it she seeks out Aunt Mei (Ling) who makes youth-restoring dumplings. Of course, these dumplings have a rather peculiar ingredient.

The Good: Since we can figure out fairly early what this strange ingredient is and it's made explicitly clear just in case you weren't sure (but I'm not telling), the whole thing just has an overwhelmingly morbid feel. That feeling just intensifies and will turn to pure disgust in some, as the type of this ingredient is escalated, for lack of a better word. What keeps you watching is seeing Mrs. Lei deal with her feelings on the matter and set or reset her priorities. What keeps you on the edge of your seat is wondering how well this stuff is going to work, what are the consequences and will it even be enough to get what she so desires. Nicely juxtaposed with all of this is how flippantly Aunt Mei handles things. In fact, the performances of the two female leads really make this movie tick. Overall, it’s just a well-done metaphor for how far some people will go in pursuit of achieving or regaining physical beauty.

The Bad: Mr. Lei (Leung) can stand to be fleshed out a bit more. As it stands, he's just a stereotypical rich guy who's only motivation is chasing young chicks with no discretion. It serves to make him sort of the villain of the film but it also makes you wonder why the Mrs. would go through so much trouble trying to keep him. It can at times get a little slow. Those looking for chase & torture scenes need to look elsewhere. Still, the pace may be a function of it being stretched from a short into a full-length feature.

The Ugly: The most potent stuff. Ewww.

Recommendation: This is the type of movie for people who want to watch something that's just way out there. The genius of it is it has one foot planted enough in reality to make it seem plausible. Not plausible to the point you think what Mrs. Lei is doing could work but to the point you could see someone believing it would work & being disillusioned enough to give it a shot. That adds to the overall creepiness & makes it the type of film that I could see as a cult favorite.

SCORE: 7.5/10

Overall View: Though 3 Extremes is billed as a set of horror-flicks they are really not in the American sense of the term. There are no moments inserted purely to make you jump, no unkillable boogey-man & no over-sexed teens to kill off. These movies are more along the lines of bazaar excursions that just freak you out. They're meant to make you feel uneasy & question yourself for liking. Cut is the most entertaining & even most plausible in the sense that Stephen King's Misery is plausible which makes it the best by a small margin. The others, particularly Box are a little more artsy & therefore not quite as accessible but are both very good. Bring your reading glasses: Dumplings is in Chinese, Cut in Korean & Box in Japanese.

The Opposite View: Kevin Crust, Los Angeles Times

What the Internet Says: 7.1/10 on (10/10/10), 85% on, 66/100 on

SCORE: 7.5/10

1 comment:

  1. I watched Dumplings yesterday and I enjoyed it. I'm not quite sure that's the right word though. Anyway, I agree with you on the husband, he doesn't have any redeeming quality so it doesn't make a lot of sense for Mrs. Li to go through so much to keep him. I have to say that Tony Leung Ka-Fai's charm helps a little.

    I haven't seen the other two but I'll check them out eventually.