Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Review: Three... Extremes

My Version: Standard definition DVD. Purchased from a blockbuster video. Not a specialized rental copy since the label on the DVD says 'Disc 1' but I did not receive a disc 2 in my purchase. So if anything it's incomplete.

History: A collaboration of three short films from three different Asian directors. The first feature, Dumplings, is directed by Fruit Chan (Hong Kong). The second feature, Cut, is directed by Chan-wook Park (Korea), and the last feature, Box, is directed by Takashi Miike (Japan). It was released on November 17th 2005 in America with a very limited release of less than 20 screens. It made roughly $2,000 per screen during it's American run. I was unable to locate information on how well it did worldwide.
The order was originally Box/Dumplings/Cut in the Asian released but was changed to the order previously mentioned. It is also technically a sequel to a similar film, simply titled Three. Ironically there was also a sequel to the film being reviewed called Three... Extremes II. Calling all of these sequels from one another is odd because they only thing they have in common is that they are collaborations of short films that have no connection other than the horror theme.
The segment Dumplings would later be expanded into a full 90 minute film.

Personal History: This is my first viewing. The only connection or history I would have with this film is I am familiar with the work of Takashi Miike.

Review: Calling Three... Extremes one of a kind is and isn't what I'm going for in the following review. The concept of making one full length film out of three shorter features is nothing new, especially in the horror genre. There's films like Creepshow and Two Evil Eyes that both did the same thing. It's entirely what those short films are about that make them one of a kind and boy, oh, boy are each of these three are one of a kind in one way or another.
The first film is Dumplings. Dumplings is a story about two women. One is a chef who specializes in a very unique type of dumplings and the other is a customer of her's who is obsessed with her beauty. You're probably thinking the exact same thing I was thinking. A horror film about someone who cooks a particular dish with a unique approach? I know, I know. The first thought that comes in your mind is that it's made of people ala Sweeney Todd minus the singing. Well you're a little bit right. There are people in the recipe but now in the same sense. Basically the plot of this short is the customer is obsessed with her looks so she eats dumplings that contain unborn fetuses. The idea behind this plot has a striking resemblance to an episode of a certain animated show on a certain comedy network. Where that episode of South Park took it in such an extreme, satirical manner this story took it in a far more freaky way.
Without the satire it's a pretty freaky concept. There's even an abortion scene where a young girl goes to the cooks apartment and they have it right there in the kitchen into the kitchen sink. It's hard to talk about these shorts without giving things away so I won't go too much farther into the story so there can be some element of surprise to the story. With that said the customer obsessed with beauty finds out that depending on where the child was in the pregnancy will rank the potency of the fetus, giving stronger/different results for her skin and beauty. Safe to say, with this being a horror tale, the results aren't what the customer hoped for. This all rolls out to a pretty creepy result. Overall my short review on Dumplings is that it's a pretty standard horror story but does execute some good creepy elements. I would be interested in checking out the extended 90 minute versions to see where else it goes.
Next in line is Cut. Right off the bat I'm not sure what to think because this is a movie about a movie maker. It's an overdone idea that gets tiresome quickly. Luckily the whole movie making aspect of it only lasts through the intro to establish character. Once it gets to the scary bits it increases in value. In short it's a cut (heh heh) and dry horror story. Guy gets kidnapped by some psycho who wants to torture him and everyone around him. Now what comes up is my favorite visual in the entire story as well as this compilation film as a whole. They are in what appears to be the director's (who was kidnapped) home but it's actually the set for his newest film. It was a design choice by the in story filmmakers to duplicate his personal home for the film's set. The director is tied up across the room and is unable to move very far from the wall he is against. Across the room he sees a woman sitting at the grand piano. All around her are wires going off in different directions but mostly centered at her hands which are on the keys of the piano. From a distance it looks like some twisted puppeteer is putting on a musical show. Here's a shot of what I'm referencing.
I actually really liked this one more than the others. It's the type of horror story where the killer presents themselves to their victim for the purposes of torturing them mentally on top of the physical torture they'll put them through. That's the element that makes this way more creepy. The mask is off, it's personal. He doesn't just want you dead, he wants you to suffer in the process, and that suffering needs to be the worst way possible. I think that's why I liked this one so much. I do like the silly slashers like Jason and Leatherface, but this brings it to a different level when not only can you see the killer's face but get to know him, too. Stories like this always make me think of a Hannibal Lecter type of killer. This brings out his bizarre logic to his motives. And boy oh boy are his motives unique.
Basically it goes like this, the director is kidnapped by a man who has been an extra in many of his films. At the same time he kidnapped the director's wife, who is the one bound up at the piano, who is also a pianist. Then, lastly he kidnapped a young girl who is tied up on the couch across the room. The extra despises the director because how much of a good man he is. The intentions of the killer are to force this good man of a director to do something horrible or every five minutes he will cut off another one of the director's wife's fingers, which will destroy her ability to play. The horrible thing? Kill the small child.
What happens over the course of the next 30-40 minutes is a series of exciting mind games that honestly kept me on the edge, not to mention some twists and turns along the way. I obviously liked this one the most with how much I've been talking about it. It really captured my attention more than Dumplings before and Box after this (which I'll get to in just a moment). The ending has a couple of loose ends I don't feel tied up properly but this one was really engaging none the less.
Now we come to Box, the last in this trilogy of these shorts. Box was directed by one of my favorite Japanese Directors, Takashi Miike (Go watch Dead or Alive, it's an amazing yakuza film, I'll have to touch on that one sometime). Unfortunately because of this I think I went in with high expectations. Now what I got wasn't crap. What I got was really good. However it was also the most puzzling. Now if you know me you know I like mind-fucks in film and other mediums. Box is definitely one of those. Only I didn't find it as interesting or compelling as other stories like this. Throughout the story it pokes at the thought that this girl is responsible for her sister's death, and the title of the film is in reference to the box her sister was locked in when she died. What follows throughout the film is what appears to be supernatural occurrences*** only to be followed up by it being a dream, but is it? Wait, if this and that was a dream earlier is this really happening? Is this story based in the reality we know or not? What?
I felt a lot of elements of the story were a jumbled mess. I was never fully sure of specific, key details of the story. For example, part of the main story was that this woman and her sister were part of a stage show when they were children. The two of them were ballerina's in the show but also participated in some magic. So this show was... I don't know... like a variety show or something? Also the man they were with I... think... was their father? Again it's something that I don't ever feel is made clear. For all I know it was their uncle, brother, family of the friend, their parent's accountant, a hobo they found at the train tracks, and the list goes on. I felt the low level of clarity on this really hit the story in the wrong way because it can damage the creep factor. Horror is meant to scare and shock. If it's their father then the way he was treating them was both creepy and shocking. If it was anyone else whether it was in or out of their family it's still creepy and shocking, only it lessens the blow a bit.
I really wanted to like Box more than I did but that's probably the fanboy inside of me screaming because of who directed it. Again I want to point out it wasn't crap. I still enjoyed what I saw and could comprehend. I think I just need to view it a few more times on it's own I think to properly comment on it. I just don't have much else to say on it at the moment.
So as a whole Three... Extremes is a pretty awesome compilation of horror shorts. I give the grand prize to Cut as I found that to be the best one put together and was the creepiest of them all. These would especially be appealing to those who enjoy other Asian horror like Ring and Whispering Corridors (Among others). I do have one more thing to comment on before I finish this off. The order of the films.
As I stated waaaaay back at the beginning of this post the order of the shorts is different than it's initial, Asian release. It was originally Box/Dumplings/Cut. I really can't argue against them being in any order, only that some orders work better for different audiences. Since this flick is three shorts coming in at roughly 40 minutes a piece it's asking for two hours of a person's time, which is quite a bit for the average American audience unless it's a story about a sinking ship or walking for a really long time to drop a ring in a volcano. So execution in presenting these to an American audience is key and re-arranging doesn't kill the overall feeling of the film. If anything it may prevent the audience from ejecting it from their DVD player.
The order it was released in America is great for the audience it is being presented to. American's are an instant gratification group of people. If Box was presented first then their assumption would be that Sumplings and Cut would be just like that and if that turns them off they'll turn the whole film off not even giving the other two a chance. So putting the most post-modern piece at the end works out well. Re-arrange the other two any way you like but leave Box at the end so this doesn't happen. However if Cut was put before Dumplings then I think it's safe to say the film would only downward spiral from there. Dumplings is good, enough to keep you interested. Cut is fantastic! Keeps you waiting for what can come next in Box. And if Box floats your boat then you go out with a bang. If it doesn't then it wasn't a total waste of time because you just two two other great horror shorts right before it, especially Cut.
I really liked Cut. I would easily buy a DVD of it stand alone.

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