Starring: Ling Bai, Pauline Lau and Tony Leung Fa Fai
Tartan Asia Extreme
RRP: 19.99
TVD 3591
Certificate: 18
Available 24 July 2006

What would you give to reclaim your youth? What price beauty? Qing Li would appear to have everything, as an ex-starlette, she has married a wealthy man, however things never stay the same and when she thinks that her husband is having an affair she decides that the only way to keep him is to reclaim her youth, but at what cost. Through her connections she finds Aunt Mei who promises that her dumplings can give her what she wants, but are the results worth swallowing Mei's secret additive?...

Dumplings (Gaau ji) is the seventh film directed by Fruit Chan, who is a well respected indie horror film maker, and is one hell of a sick chick-flick horror movie. It is a 91 min extended version of a previously available short in the Three Extremes collection. The film won Best Cinematography and Best Screenplay at the Hong Kong Film Awards. It is less of a "I see dead babies movie", more of a "Can I have chips with it?". This is sensuality at its twisted best.

The acting throughout the film is faultless with the vast majority of the film having to be carried by Ling Bai, who also appeared in Star Wars: Episode III, playing the garish Mei and Tony Leung Ka Fai playing the initially staid Mrs Li, who through the use of the dumplings finds herself revitalised both personally and sexually, but at what price?

The soundscape of the film really adds to its unnerving feel. It's hard to explain in print, but great wrenching noises like the sound of a million dammed souls rattle the fillings from your mouth - first time I heard it everybody in the room jumped. Every nuance of sound is used to unsettle you from the metallic sound of the chopper on the board to the visceral sounds of Li consuming the dumplings, a sound which had the unpleasant effect of turning my stomach.

Visually the film is just as disturbing; I for one will never eat dumplings again. I'm not sure what was more unsettling watching Mei prepare the foetuses, for the dumplings, or the way that Li is happy to swap the best recipes for their preparation. Even some of the more normal scenes, and I use the phrase with some reservation, like the abortion just adds to the whole desire to watch the film with your hand over your eyes.

Apart from the horror aspect of the film, and it has this in droves, the film is really more of a black comedy examining vanity and the lengths that some women will go to in order to hang on to their increasingly elusive youth. This type of film is never going to be to everybody's taste but if you like your social commentary served up in a sick bag you're going to love this. It's the sort of film that Hollywood would be terrified of making, all the more reason to watch it.

The print appears to be a perfect transfer and is presented in Cantonese/Mandarin with English subtitles. The audio options are generous giving you the choice of stereo, 5.1 or DTS. On the extras front you get the original trailer, a bunch of Tartan trailers, and a twenty-three min English language interview with Bai Ling (Mei).

Charles Packer

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