This high profile “sequel” to the 2002 horror anthology Three compiles shorts by Fruit Chan, Park Chan-wook, and Takashi Miike. This new collection may have little in common beyond the same cinematographer (Christopher Doyle, just in case you weren’t already sold), an unnerving structuralist rigor, and a number of tongue-related non sequiturs but is still full of individual suprises. The best in the bunch is Dumplings, a condensed version of a superb 90-minute feature incorporated into the anthology when producers were looking for a story to stuff between Miike’s Box and Park’s Cut. Bootleg shoppers and eBayers should seek out the feature-length version of Dumplings (also known as Gaudzi) before watching the abbreviated form included on Three…Extremes, which used to go by the title Three, Monster.
The abridged Dumplings is actually a mixed bag; though it does away with some of the longer film’s excess fat (namely the egregious bird embryo imagery), it now seems to hurry through the story’s social context, retaining the weird sound design of the original (the parallels between youth preservation and noisy sex are interesting but the aural effects are more amusing than chilling), and concludes on a ghoulishly corny note. Still, what remains is incredibly absorbing. A retired actress whose husband is cheating on her visits a mysterious woman whose dumplings promise eternal youth. The less said about the secret ingredient Aunt Mei (Ling Bei) puts in her dumplings the better, but I can say that Fruit allows the story’s body horrors to reflect the growing boy/girl imbalance in China’s population and the psychological strain this has had on female self-image.
In Miike’s Box, the human psyche is equally stressed, and what the short lacks in social context it more than makes up for in mood, economy, and sheer force of will. A reclusive, guilt-ridden writer with a stunned relationship to her publisher remembers the horrible death of her twin sister, whose presence begins to be felt in the real world. The piece’s formal rigor is flabbergasting and channels the spirit of Polanski—namely the feeling conveyed by the famous shot of Ruth Gordon talking on the telephone from Rosemary’s Baby—in the sense that Box‘s freak show unnervingly grounds the audience’s sense of perception in its protagonist’s chaos. The makers of HBO’s Carnivale could have learned a few things from Miike.
Though Park’s Cut may be the least effective in the bunch, it’s still the director’s best work to date. A famous director and his pianist wife are held hostage by a disgruntled extra in a rigged film set where the director must strangle a little girl or watch as his wife loses her fingers. The short’s tableaux mort recalls Saw but the slick camera moves and constant mood of moral judgment more explicitly brings to mind Fincher’s Se7en. The masochism of the piece is largely unexamined but Park’s willingness to deconstruct his reputation as a flashy, pessimistic director is refreshing and certainly surprising. Even if you don’t dig the film’s self-reflexivity, like the equally sadistic Battle Royale, I was dying to see where it was going.