Almost like getting a mixed sampler meal at a Chinese restaurant, Three Extremes is a peek at what some of the greatest horror directors in Asia are up to these days, a two-hour collection that features three distinct flavors. In this cross-cultural horror film collaboration, top-notch directors from Japan, Hong Kong and Korea explore the extremes of longing, desire and passion. In Miike’s Box quiet author Kyoko falls towards her own Pandora. In Fruit Chan’s Dumplings, there is no price too small for the gift of eternal youth, and in Park Chan-Wook’s Cut, the mediocre becomes the megalomanic.
In Miike’s Box, the human psyche is equally stressed, and what the short lacks in social context it more than makes up for in mood, economy, and sheer force of will. Box is the story of Kyoko, a young woman who is plagued by dreams of being trapped in a box. When she searches back into her memory, she begins to realize that there may be a genuinely good reason for these dreams. Eventually, her guilt and her longing are revealed in all their broken intensity and not once did Miike really raise his cinematic voice. His sets and the gentle pace of the story are deliberately staged to magnify the surreality of Kyoko’s world and it is utterly mesmerizing, right to the final frame.
Dumplings is actually a mixed bag. Dumplings considers the obsession so many women have with youth and beauty—whether it’s a personal struggle to maintain a youthful look, or the feeling of societal pressure. As with most good horror films, Dumplings deals with some genuine sociopolitical issues. One is the morality of abortion. Specifically, it raises some of the following questions: Who decides? Who performs the abortion? What motives can influence the decision, and are there good and bad motives that can make the act itself immoral? It’s not so much the lengths that aging actress Mrs. Lee (Miriam Yeung) goes to to retain her youth and her husband (Tony Leung Ka Fei), but the calculated, rational way in which she does it.
After the Miike and Chan pieces, Park’s piece was more a commentary on reality than a shift in it. For the director in our movie, success brings its own problems. Even if you’ve earned your accolades, and even if you haven’t let it get to your head, your elevated status — the mere fact of your success — makes you a target. The setup is contrived, like Saw, or like the thought experiments philosophers use to evaluate moral arguments. The tormentor will cut off his wife’s fingers, one by one, until the director (bound by an elastic band to his artwork) does something morally reprehensible, say commit murder. While Dumplings tries to dig deep into humanity, Cut is a simpler brand of horror. Cut flips back and forth from sharply funny to gut-churningly gruesome, all using the timing of a master filmmaker. Fans of Asian horror don’t need to be told to check out Three Extremes. This combination of directors is too cool to pass up.