Three... Extremes

on October 28, 2005 by Francesca Dinglasan
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Three deliciously twisted tales of the depths of depravity comprise "Three... Extremes," a collection of vignette-style tales whose single connecting thread is an exploration of the human struggle with mortality. Stylized by their respective directors' individual sensibilities, the trio of haunting -- and at times ghoulish -- stories manage to deconstruct conventions specific to each of their Asian cultures while also examining universal themes of human folly.

In the surrealist tale "Box," the Japanese narrative vacillates between protagonist Kyoko's (Kyoko Hasegawa) waking-dream state and haunted memories. A successful, yet introverted writer, she is constantly visited by visions of a traumatic childhood event, with her past and present seemingly melding together into a concurrent timeline. As a 10-year-old (Mai Suzuki), she and her twin sister Shoko performed together as a magician's onstage assistants. Outshone by and somewhat jealous of her sibling, Shoko engages in a playful but aggressive stunt that ends up having tragic results. Her imaginings of the suffering caused by her action become a permanent fixture in her mind, with the sequence's cold and winter-like settings perfectly reflecting Shoko's psychological frigidness.

The Chinese segment "Dumplings," by contrast, takes a straightforward shock approach, at once wholly outrageous and utterly fascinating in its literal representation of moral corruption as the price for physical beauty. Mei (Bai Ling, known to Western audiences for her roles in such Hollywood films as "Anna and the King" and "My Baby's Daddy,") is wickedly delightful as a former back-alley abortionist-turned-"beautician," whose secret-recipe dumplings have the power to restore a woman's youthful looks. One of Mei's customers, Qing (Miriam Yeung), initially horrified when she discovers the dumplings' magic ingredient, nonetheless continues devouring -- and going to even greater lengths to acquire -- the specialty item to keep the attention of her cheating husband (Tony Ka-Fai Leung). Outrageous and gruesome, "Dumplings," which ironically plays off of Western stereotypical suspicions of China's more exotic cuisine, is a darkly gleeful satire on the fetishization of youth.

The South Korean segment "Cut" is the bloodiest yet most comedic of the three "Extremes." Directed by Park Chan-Wook, the story explores the horror-film genre through the ingenious setting of a horror-film set. Using the double-entendre of a filmmaker's direction to end shooting and the act of using a knife, "Cut" centers on Ryu (Lee Byung-Hun), a helmer working on his latest vampire picture. After being knocked unconscious at his home, he finds himself back on the set of his movie, where his pianist wife (Gang Hye-Jung) has been glued and wired down to a piano. It seems that a disgruntled and envious struggling actor ((Lim Won-Hee), who has appeared as an extra in some of Ryu's films, has kidnapped the couple to test their true morality. The captor has given Ryu the choice of strangling a child to death or watching his wife's fingers get sliced off one by one. As time progresses, the couple becomes increasingly more abusive to each other under the strain of their captor.

Although quite different in their respective plotlines, pacing and moods, the trio of segments in "Three... Extremes" gel together smoothly to form a complementary and memorable final product both fascinating and utterly horrific. Starring Kyoko Hasegawa, Mai Suzuki, Yuu Suzuki, Atsuro Watabe, Bai Ling, Miriam Yeung, Tony Ka-Fai Leung, Lee Byung-Hun, Lim Won-Hee and Gang Hye-Jung. Directed by Takashi Miike, Fruit Chan and Park Chan-Wook. Written by Haruko Fukushima, Lilian Lee and Park Chan-Wook. Produced by Naoki Sato, Shun Shimizu Fumio Inoue, Peter Ho-Sun Chan and Ahn Soo-Hyun. A Lions Gate release. Japanese-, Cantonese- and Korean-language; subtitled. Horror. Rated R for strong disturbing violent content, some involving abortion and torture, and for sexuality and language. Running time: 125 min

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