Three... Extremes

Starring: Miriami Yeung, Lee Byung-Hun and Kyoko Hasegawa
Tartan Asia Extreme
RRP: 19.99
TVD 3616
Certificate: 18
Available 21 August 2006

The generally reliable Tartan Asia Extreme collection this time brings us three separate and unconnected tales of horror, each lasting around forty minutes. Three Extremes showcases the talents of three well-known East Asian directors: Park Chan-Wook, who brought us Lady Vengeance, only recently released on DVD; Miike Takashi, veteran of the disturbing Audition and the acclaimed Visitor Q; and Fruit Chan, director of the full movie version of Dumplings.

We kick-off with the shortened release of Dumplings (Chan) which contains specially shot new footage as well as that used in the full film. In this one, a female ex-TV star seeks to regain her youth and the affections of her disinterested husband. Over a period of time she visits an unorthodox doctor (who is pretty close to being a witch doctor woman) who works from home and claims her dumplings are the answer to eternal youth (yeah, that's what I thought!). However, in this case Japanese dumplings are finely-chopped meat in cooked dough bags. She claims to have a secret ingredient. When the patient displays dissatisfaction at the slowness of the transformation, the doctor proposes a speciality. When she learns that she would be eating an aborted foetus from a schoolgirl the patient is horrified, but soon returns desperate for results.

Dumplings tackles the taboo subject matter of cannibalism and the lengths someone will go to in order to recapture their youth. There is even an added twist at the end. Using an everyday object or event and turning it into something to be feared is often effective, but is this case the horror element is not violence or the unknown but rather the realisation of its origin.

In Cut (Chan-Wook) a film director is assaulted in his home and wakes up on the film set of his house, bound by an elaborate elastic construction. His wife is tied using a multitude of rope cords between the walls and the piano, her fingers are superglued to the keys. It materialises that the captor is a film extra who has always been treated well by the director. It's anathema to him that a rich person can also be nice, and he is determined to reveal the dark side of the director's personality by cutting off his wife's fingers and trying to make him kill a little girl.

This is a bizarre one, to say the least. The structure is similar to that of Funny Games, which I reviewed recently. Only in this one there's a motive (however small and crazy) for the psychological and physical torture, whereas there was none at all in the aforementioned film. The twist at the conclusion to Cut seems pretty nonsensical to me, but I can understand why it was done. It certainly doesn't detract from an eminently watchable short.

In the final segment, Box (Takashi), a woman has a recurring nightmare about being buried alive in a small box. A back story shows her and her twin sister as little girls who dance as a carnival act. The culmination of their performance has them, as contortionists, fold themselves into small boxes which are then padlocked as part of a disappearing extension to the show. The showman, their guardian, appears to favour her sister over her, praising her act and even gifting her a necklace. When her sister is practising her act, jealousy overcomes her and she can't resist locking her in the box. But there is a disaster and a fire erupts, burning down the marquee. She is seen running away. Ever since that time she has been plagued by apparitions of her dead sister. Now she receives an anonymous letter inviting her back to the scene of the tragedy.

This is easily the best of the three. The pace is slow in places and lighteningly quick in others, and there's more atmosphere created in the scenes. Takashi cleverly places the viewer in an uneasy limbo of never quite knowing what is real and what is a dream right until the end when it becomes clear. And, yes, there's a twist at the end.

The hour-long Making of Documentary concentrates on each segment separately, but edits them all together, when I would have much preferred to have selected each from the menus. On the whole though, an experiment which works quite well by marketing more directors and actors.

Ty Power

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