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Three… Extremes (2004)

Three… Extremes [三更2] (2004)

Starring Miriam Yeung, Bai Ling, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Lee Byung-Heon, Lim Won-Hee, Gang Hye-Jung, Kyoko Hasegawa, Atsuro Watabe, Mai Suzuki, Yuu Suzuki

Directed by Fruit Chan (Dumplings), Park Chan-Wook (Cut), Takashi Miike (Box)

Expectations: High. Good talent involved.

I’m a fan of extremes. It’s in my nature to like pushed boundaries and things outside the prescribed normal edges of taste. So when, just a minute or so into the first short, there is a shot so extreme and insane in its ability to shock and repulse that I’m ripped out of my haze and thrown headlong into wild fits of uncontrollable gasping and cringing, I am impressed. This is exactly what happened at the beginning of Three… Extremes, the sequel to the overall underwhelming Three.

Three… Extremes once again brings together three Asian directors from different countries and lets them loose to deliver whatever their hearts desire. First up is Dumplings from Hong Kong’s Fruit Chan, the director of one of my favorite Hong Kong films, Made in Hong Kong. But as much as I like that movie, I’ve never seen anything else from him, so I started Dumplings with a palpable excitement. Chan didn’t let me down either, as he quickly grabbed hold of the reins and never let go. This is easily the most extreme tale, which is somewhat disappointing because it’s first, but Chan is also the least well-known of the three directors here, so just like a nightclub line-up, it makes sense to place his film first. But it’s really a shame when your opener blows you away, and that’s exactly what Fruit Chan does to both Park Chan-Wook and Takashi Miike.

I really don’t want to get into too many specifics regarding Dumplings because part of the fun is having the intense reaction to the film as it unceremoniously crosses society’s good taste line as if it were doing nothing more extreme than brushing its teeth. The simple nature of the gripping shot is part of its power, and literally from this point until the short ended I was smiling, wincing, stomping and completely enthralled. It’s interesting to see Chan’s unique eye for strange angles and framing he exhibited in Made in Hong Kong also show up in Dumplings, now more confident and precise, but still delivering a similar feeling of reality and spontaneity. Dumplings is by far my favorite short of the three, and I swear it’s not Hong Kong favoritism on my part. Fruit Chan later released a feature-length version that is apparently quite different from this version, so one of these days I’ll have to check that version out as I venture through his films.

Next we have South Korea’s Park Chan-Wook directing Cut. This is the first film I’ve seen from the notable director of Oldboy, and even though it’s influenced by Saw, and it features one of my most hated modern filmmaking techniques, the “impossible camera move through objects”, I still really enjoyed Cut. That says a lot about how well-made Cut is, and it makes me eager to check out more of Park’s work.

The film is about a film director who is held hostage by an extra from his films. It’s a simple premise, and one I’m sure I’ve seen before, but it works and it’s never boring. Park consistently ups the ante through the short running time, managing to sandwich in some humor amidst the intense thrills. Cut deals with extremes of a different nature than Dumplings, hoping to throw tonal extremes at the viewer to place them off-guard and give them a ride to remember. It works, mostly, but I wish it ended a couple of minutes before it did. But besides that, it’s very good.

And lastly we come to Japan’s Takashi Miike and his film Box. This was my most anticipated short, and as anything with high expectations, it had the possibility of being extremely disappointing. Unfortunately, that was the case with Box, and I feel it’s the weakest link of the film. It’s not that it’s bad, or that it’s poorly made, it’s just boring. The film is told cryptically, jumping in and out of dreams, memories and reality, but the story feels obvious enough that it seems odd to obscure it so much. Of course, the ending came and made me realize that I clearly didn’t see everything coming, but it was far too little too late.

Box is the most artsy of the three as well, with many scenes playing without sound or music, essentially silent, and then peppering in sound effects that then gain importance. As sound wasn’t a key theme it felt like an odd choice, although when trying to represent haunting memories or strange nightmares, I guess any filmmaking device should be on the table regardless of theme. I don’t know, I feel like I would like it more if I saw it again, knowing fully its secrets, but I don’t know that I’ll be compelled to ever watch it again. I did like it though, and I’ve seen some call it the best of the three, so I think it’s best to judge for yourself. As every film is so different in style and tone, each viewer’s take will be subjective and unique.

Three… Extremes is an exceedingly better film than its predecessor and is a must for fans of Asian horror. Even with my reservations about certain aspects of Cut and Box, I highly recommend giving this one a go.

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