Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Three ... Extremes
Chan starts things off with "Dumplings," the tale of an aging ex-actress who visits a woman who makes dumplings that can restore her youth, but they are made with a gruesome ingredient. In "Cut," by Park, a successful film director and his wife are kidnapped by an extra from his movies and tortured mentally and physically, respectively. With the finale "Box," Miike tells the story of a woman who is haunted by nightmares of being buried in a box in the snow.
Unlike so many mediocre anthologies, in which the individual episodes are usually one-note "just desserts" stories with endings telegraphed as soon as you know the set up, the stories in Three ... Extremes are presented and treated as complete films in their own right, with more vivid characterization, unexpected plot developments, multiple locations, and complex camera setups.
With a title like Three ... Extremes, the movie is expectedly violent and button-pushing. With directors with these track records between them (Oldboy, Audition, etc.), all three segments address and depict taboo subject matter including and not limited to child murder, incest, torture, mutilation, cannibalism, and abortion, and some of these overlap. The movie also has its fair share of blood and guts. This is a challenging movie to watch, not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach, but if you have an iron constitution, you'll be able see absolutely exemplary filmmaking, craftsmanship, and style in the service of these stories. Each entry showcases its director's personality and sensibilities.
Ultimately, "Dumplings" shows the lengths people will go to feed their vanity, clinging to their youth and beauty no matter the cost. Mrs. Lee (Miriam Yung) descends into perverse behavior to get her fix of the dumplings. Chan's entry is very claustrophobic as he deploys tight framing: tiny apartments, cramped spaces, and even a fancy dinner party is limited because we can only see through a narrow doorway. Also Bai Ling as "Aunt" Mei, the woman who makes the dumplings, gives a wonderfully wicked performance.
In his entry, Park displays his black sense of humor, opening with a vampire feeding on a victim, talking to someone on the phone and asking if that person minds "frozen leftovers." But then the film pulls back, to reveal that what we've been watching is a movie within a movie. It doesn't really have anything to do with the rest of the story, but it's pretty funny. The meat of this entry is the hostage situation. Im Won-hee is the extra, and he's nothing sort of outrageous: re-enacting his bit parts as a coal miner, soldier, and dancer to get the director (Lee Byung-hun) to remember him. It's kind of funny but also a reminder that he's a total madman. And it's not like he's out for revenge; he calls the director a nice guy who treated him well.
For the final piece of the film, Miike doesn't pile on the queasy effect like his compatriots, instead ending the film on a quieter, somber, and sad meditation on guilt and regret. Most if not all of this segment is without music, and there's little dialogue as Kyoko (Kyoko Hasegawa) walks alone in a field of snow or against a blank wall as Miike flashes back to show her childhood as a circus dancer with her twin sister Shoko and reveals how shame and jealousy led to a tragic accident. The accident, save for some dialogue, is completely quiet, no sound effects, until the flames ignite, and the rush of the fire is like a punch to the face.