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Movie Review: Three Extremes

December 22, 2005

Three Extremes

Directed by
Takashi Miike
Fruit Chan
Park Chan Wook

Three shorts from the mavericks of East Asian cinema. Takashi’s first up to, his “Box” plays like a suburban, snow capped remake of Audition. A young woman (Hasegawa Kyoko), an author, lives a waking dream, haunted by a childhood of abuse and the possibly accidental death of her father and twin sister, who reappears in the woman’s waking dreams as a child (the ubiquitous white gowned scary little girl). Takashi’s not too concerned with frightening the viewer. He focuses on the storytelling, using the lush landscapes and vivid colored interiors to amplify the tragedy of envy and grief (and bad parenting).

Chan’s consumer culture criticism plays like a top flight episode of the “Twilight Zone.” In “Dumplings” a city slicker and desperate housewife, Ching (Miriam Yeung) seeks a mythic cure for aging from Mei (Bai Ling), a country girl from the mainland. With wry, dark humor, Chan juxtaposes the anxiety of Ching’s existence as a trophy wife whose shine has tarnished and the joy of Ling’s witch doctor who achieves a life of comfort like a trophy wife without becoming one. The twist? Soylent Green is stem cells! Arrgh!

Park once again takes on revenge in an elaborate set piece, “Cut.” A movie director’s violent films come to haunt him when he and his girlfriend are taken hostage by a raving lunatic. As is often the case with Park’s work, the less said about it in advance the better, as he often relies on jolts and shocks and train wreck visuals for our rubbernecking pleasure. In his segment, Park minimizes the theme in favor of maximizing the humor and sadism. It’s too cute by half, though. He executes the short with zeal, however he forces you to consume empty calories.

Though “Dumplings” is the most accessible and “Cut” is likely to become the Internet Asiaphile’s favorite, “Box” is the most accomplished of the segments. Takashi’s foray into Kurosawa Kiyoshi style atmospherics and psychological terror lifts the short work out of the realm of trite Japanese horror tropes.

Note: On my DVD, the order of viewing is up to the viewer, I went with “Box” first, though in the theatrical release “Box” is last.

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