NOVEMBER 21, 2009
I cannot recall when I purchased Three... Extremes (aka Sam Gang Yi), but I would guess that it was the result of a “Buy 2, Get 1 Free” deal at Blockbuster in which I had two I really wanted and then spent a while looking for something for free. It was pre-HMAD anyway, so my interest in Asian horror was next to nothing, and I had yet to see any of the films of Miike or Chan-Wook Park, so their names meant nothing to me to boot (and I STILL haven’t seen anything from Fruit Chan). But longtime HMAD reader pot head pixie recommended it, so I figured it was about time I actually made good on my purchase.
I also just learned that the film is actually a sequel to the simply titled Three, which is the same deal (anthology with three Asian filmmakers) and was released in the states as 3 Extremes II. I’ll have to check that out.
Anyway, it’s a pretty good anthology, despite the lack of a wrap-around (Thailand isn’t represented - why not have the Shutter guys shoot one?). Chan-Wook’s story Cut is the best (and the longest), depicting a stranger who chains up a director and his wife in their home (or is it?), forcing the director to watch as he chops off his pianist wife’s fingers. The story isn’t incredibly exciting, but Park’s always interesting camerawork and surprising humorous touches give it unexpected life, and the final twist is pretty chilling (and I didn’t see it coming, so bonus points).
Miike’s is, unsurprisingly, the hardest to follow, even though it’s probably the most “commercial” (for lack of a better word) of all of his films that I’ve seen. Imprint had the aborted fetuses, Gozu had... well, everything in its final 20 minutes or so, and Audition had the torture (both on-screen and the more psychological variety stemming from its running time). But this is simply a story about an act of jealousy resulting in tragedy, with very little on-screen violence. However, half of it (or more) takes place in the dream world, and the ending offers no concrete evidence as to whether or not we are watching another dream or the reality of the entire situation. It’s not a bad film (it’s actually probably my favorite of his stuff so far), but it seems to be, ironically enough, hampered by it’s “short” length, and may have been better suited for a feature where the back-story could be fleshed out a bit more.
Fruit Chan’s Dumplings is the most straightforward, and I was surprised to learn that it was the only one that HAS indeed been turned into a feature (which is on Disc 2 - Monday’s movie!). I’m curious to see how the feature expands what is a pretty simple (yet horrific) story about dumplings made from baby meat. I think it works perfectly well as a short, and it was nice to see the off-the-wall batshit Bai Ling being sort of restrained and playing a real character instead of some cartoonish stereotype.
The cool thing about the film is that it’s the rare anthology that offers different filmmaking styles instead of merely giving us different horror types (i.e. one zombie tale, one slasher type, a ghost story, etc). None of them delve into the supernatural and they all deal with people who want more from their life but go about it in the worst possible way. Yet they all feel completely different, due to the filmmakers’ varying styles. Miike of course has the quiet horror thing down to a science, and Park offers up his unique blend of absurdity and reality, not to mention the larger than life visuals. Since I am not familiar with his work, I don’t know if Fruit’s other films are like this, but his film offers a more traditional style, albeit with the odd choice of spoiling the “secret ingredient” for the audience long before it is spoiled for our main character. I wish American filmmakers would band together for something similar - take a basic theme and have them each do their own take on it. Certainly Sam Raimi would come up with something different than Wes Craven, who in turn would make something completely opposite of what Rob Zombie did. And then have Carpenter do the wraparound, because he wouldn’t have to worry about telling a good story (something that has eluded him for well over a decade, though I hear The Ward is, if nothing else, a lot of fun at least).
For a “Two Disc Special Edition”, it’s pretty slim. Dumplings is an actual film so I wouldn’t really call it bonus material. The only real extra for Extremes is a Miike commentary over his film The Box. As slow as the film is, he talks even slower, and I actually dozed off a couple times listening to him (dude’s got a soothing voice - if filmmaking doesn’t work out, he should record audiobooks of children’s bedtime stories). He doesn’t explain much, though he does seem to suggest that the end of the film is indeed the reality and thus everything was a dream (or a dream within a dream, I guess). If you’re interested in some nuts and bolts stuff, I would recommend it, but if you need story clarification, you won’t get much of it here.
What say you?