Three ... Extremes

Three ... Extremes

2005, R, 118 min. Directed by Fruit Chan, Chan-wook Park, Takashi Miike. Starring Bai Ling, Tony Ka-fai Leung, Kyoko Hasegawa, Atsuro Watabe, Mai Susuki, Yuu Susuki, Miriam Yeung, Lim Won-hee, Pauline Lau, Meme, Lee Byung-hun, Kang Hye-jeong.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 28, 2005

Anthology films are notoriously tricky to pull off. For one thing, they’re almost exclusively the province of genre filmmaking, rendering them relatively limited in audience and, generally, narrative scope. Thanks to the necessarily foreshortened running times of each feature’s individual episodes, they’re also prone to disabling bouts of character and narrative nondevelopment, budgetary constraints, and a general feeling that everybody involved would rather have been working over at HBO, given the under-hour format. There are exceptions: For every Tales From the Darkside there’s a Dead of Night; for every Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, a Kwaidan (itself a single-director, four-story work). The lush and horrific Three … Extremes is another welcome exception, and one so single-mindedly calculated to blow minds and provoke reactions that it’s an instantly memorable, at times squirm-inducing, assemblage as likely to take your breath away as it is to trigger the gag reflex. It helps immensely that the directors represent three of the finest craftsmen working in film today, and are backed by a trove of talent both behind the camera and in front of it. Fruit Chan’s opener, "Dumplings," sets a nervy, freakish tone in an ageless meditation on the corruptive nature of both personal and social vanity. A professionally fading (yet still lovely) Hong Kong actress (Yeung) seeks out the queasy culinary services of a witchy mainlander (Ling) who promises to restore not only her former youthful suppleness but also the attentions of her straying husband (Ka-fai Leung). By far the strongest of the three films, "Dumplings" is nerve-racking from frame one thanks to some stunning cinematography from Wong Kar-Wai regular Christopher Doyle, an intellectually chewy script by Lilian Lee, Kwong Wing-chan’s distressing score, and masterful performances from all three leads. (This 37-minute masterpiece is actually a finely edited version of a 92-minute feature.) I won’t even attempt to describe the film’s unsavory sound design and Foley work; suffice it to say you’ll never look at those strangely translucent potstickers in the same way again. Chan-wook Park’s "Cut" is next, with the director of Oldboy returning with a vengeance to his ongoing theme of personal vendettas. A film director (Lee) and his concert pianist wife (Kang) are held captive in their hyper-stylized home by a maniacal depressive (Lim) whose ingeniously bloodthirsty antics fall just this side of zany. Boasting some of the director’s most unique art direction to date (and that’s saying a lot), the near-flawless "Cut" is beautiful to behold and only misses the classic mark by dint of its thematically overcrowded script. Regardless, it moves like gangbusters on ketamine, mixing cornball musical numbers, broad slapstick, and gallons of the red stuff into a wholly original, entertaining work. Closer "Box," from the tireless Takashi Miike (Ichi the Killer) has the distinction of being both the weakest link narratively, and the most accomplished visually. While some of the compositions of Miike and cinematographer Kôichi Kawakami are as sublimely arresting as any you’ve ever seen (and frequently echo traditional Japanese sumi-e painting), the story of a generation-spanning guilt and the awful fate awaiting an adolescent acrobatic duo suffers from an odd, experimental drift that distracts from the film’s eerie charms. That said, it’s still a powerful piece in Miike’s genre-hopping oeuvre. Three … Extremes’ collective punch is both psychologically and viscerally punishing and possesses an often stunning visual aesthetic. Couple that with its obvious and genuine desire to freak out audiences and you not only have an exemplary horror anthology, but what might also be the best date movie ever, depending on your idea of a good time.

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Three ... Extremes, Fruit Chan, Chan-wook Park, Takashi Miike, Bai Ling, Tony Ka-fai Leung, Kyoko Hasegawa, Atsuro Watabe, Mai Susuki, Yuu Susuki, Miriam Yeung, Lim Won-hee, Pauline Lau, Meme, Lee Byung-hun, Kang Hye-jeong

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