NOVEMBER 23, 2009
While it’s not too uncommon to see short films expanded into features, it is pretty rare that I see the short film first. It’s also rare to see them back to back, as is the case with Dumplings (aka Gaau Ji), which was one of the stories in Saturday’s Three... Extremes. After watching that film, I learned about the feature version of Fruit Chan’s story, and was surprised, as I thought it was the least suited to an expanded version, given the rather straight-forward story (which was rather thin even by short film standards).
I was even more surprised to discover that the film was LITERALLY an expanded version of the short. With the exception of an expanded role for the husband (Tony Leung), and the ending, everything plays out exactly the same, just longer. There aren’t any new characters or anything like that, and it begins and ends in the exact same points in time (unlike say, Grace - the short ended at Grace’s birth, which was the end of the first act of the feature). Instead, a scene that was 3 minutes in the short might last five or six now, but without any real addition to the story or even character development. For example, the “what’s that smell?” dinner scene. In the short, she figures out that it’s her smell rather quickly, but in the feature it just plays out for like 30 seconds, as people smell the air, each other, the food, etc. (they also add in a hilarious “oh the smell is gone now” bit of dialogue when she leaves the room).
I mean, yeah, it’s nice to have a little breathing room and flesh out the husband character a bit, but I honestly don’t think that the film needed expanding. Again, it’s a pretty thin story, and the central “twist” (the dumplings being made from baby fetuses) is not a reveal or anything - it’s introduced in the first scene. So there’s not a lot of suspense, nor is there even the “oh shit” moment when our character realizes what she is eating.
That said, it’s still a strange and entertaining little movie. The baby-eating is treated so casually that you almost never really find it as sickening as it really is, which is impressive in a terrible sort of way. And like I said in the review for the short version, it’s nice to see Bai Ling playing someone with a little more depth and realism to her. If I were to judge from her performances in The Crow and Crank 2 and such, I’d guess she was just some weird Asian woman with a penchant for scenery chewing, not an actual actress. Hell, I didn’t even recognize her at first.
Also, she keeps a poodle on her counter nearly at all times. You’d think that the weirdest part of a movie with baby eating would be baby eating, but no - I was continually weirded out by this little pooch sitting on a counter for no reason.
And as an editor, I was pretty impressed with how they were able to expand it by adding shots into existing footage (at least, that’s how it looked to me - every actor is the same, every shot is the same, costumes are the same, etc - if they reshot the stuff from the short, they didn’t change a damn thing to my eye). I actually began wondering if it was not an expanded short, but if the short was merely a cut down version of a previously existing feature, because the new stuff blends so seamlessly with the original footage.
The ending here is also a bit more fitting, if not as horrific. Since the movie is about this woman becoming stronger, it’s great to see her get the ultimate revenge on her husband, as opposed to stooping to complete desperation as she does in the short version. The expanded role for the husband also means we are treated to some more erotically charged sex scenes, such as his kitchen romp with Bai Ling (this bit also reveals a bit more about her character that I don’t recall being in the short, though I did walk out of the room for a moment during my viewing of that one).
So really, if you’ve seen one there’s not much reason to see the other. The feature offers a bit more backstory and depth (and a brief making of on the DVD, but it sadly doesn’t discuss the re-cutting at all), but is otherwise the exact same story told in less than half the time. And then you get to watch Chan-Wook Park’s short, which is better than any version of Dumplings anyway. Your call.
What say you?