THREE EXTREMES, SQUARED
by Colleen Wanglund, the Geisha of Gore
While in the past I have highlighted Asian horror films based on their country of origin, this time I’m going to take a look at two different movies with a mix of countries involved. Each movie has three segments with each segment being directed by a different director from a different country. This may get a bit confusing, but please bear with me. THREE…EXTREMES was released in 2004 and is actually the sequel to 3 EXTREMES II released in 2002. Throughout Asia its original title was just THREE. The reason for the “new” titles is due to when the movies were released in the United States, with THREE…EXTREMES coming first. While both movies are good, THREE…EXTREMES (2004) is definitely the better of the two. I can’t believe I just said that. If there’s one thing I hate more than remakes, its sequels. However, you really can’t look at it as a sequel per se, as there is no continuing story.
First up is 3 EXTREMES II (2002) or THREE as it was originally called. THREE is comprised of three segments, each around 40 minutes long. The first segment is MEMORIES written and directed by Kim Ji-woon from Korea (who also gave us 2003’s A TALE OF TWO SISTERS). It tells the story of a man whose wife has left him and their daughter. The man goes to a doctor when he begins seeing things and cannot seem to remember the events surrounding his wife’s departure. He is afraid something bad has happened to her. A woman later wakes up on the street after it seems as though she’s been attacked and doesn’t remember how she got there. The assumption here is that she is his missing wife. As MEMORIES unfolds both the man and the woman begin to remember what happened to each of them
The second segment, THE WHEEL is from Thailand and was written and directed by Nonzee Nimibutr (also written by Nitas Singhamat). Master Tao is the director of a dance/puppet troupe. He has lost his wife and son in a drowning when Tao told them to drown the puppets and Tao is very ill. During the funeral for his family, Tao’s house catches fire and he dies. His brother-in-law Tong has decided to take over the troupe. What Tong doesn’t know is that one of the puppets is cursed and it will destroy everyone it comes in contact with. The puppet has also possessed Tong’s granddaughter and uses her to get what it wants.
The final segment is GOING HOME from Hong Kong, directed by Peter Chan and written by Teddy Chan, Matt Chow, Jo Jo Hui, and Chao-bin Su. A cop, Wai, moves himself and his son into a building that everyone seems to be moving out of. When Wai’s son goes missing while playing with a little girl, he goes to his neighbor Yu’s apartment looking for him. Yu, a Chinese physician, holds Wai hostage because he’s afraid Wai will go to the police (Yu doesn’t know Wai is a cop) about his dead wife. Yu has been caring for his wife who died of liver cancer and he expects her to revive in a couple of days. Wai thinks Yu is a kook but just wants to find his son. Finally the day has come for the revival and Yu releases Wai but not before his fellow cops come looking for him. Yu is arrested and his wife’s body is taken to the morgue. What happens next to all involved leaves Wai reeling.
Overall 3 EXTREMES II is a pretty good movie. With each segment taken individually, though I felt MEMORIES was the weakest of the three. The basic story was a good one, but when played out it was frustratingly slow and plodding. There was minimal dialogue which may have been meant to heighten the suspense, but the events were ultimately predictable. The few gore elements in the short seemed to have been added as an afterthought and seemed out of place. Not only did I figure out the ending rather early on, but I also knew the wife was dead practically right away. THE WHEEL was quite a spooky story because puppets and dolls in general creep me out. Tong was a greedy man who ignored the young puppeteer Gaan when told about the possible curse on the puppet. Made in Thailand, you get a sense of the respect given to these entertainment troupes as well as the superstition among the Thai people. GOING HOME from Hong Kong is the best of the bunch. The story is initially quite creepy with Yu bathing his wife, cutting her hair, and talking to her, but you start to sympathize with him. He’s convinced his wife will revive on a day that she specified, but he has to be crazy, right? I also felt sorry for Wai….all he wanted to do was find his missing son but inadvertently gets caught up in Yu’s delusions. The twist ending was brilliant and quite unexpected.
THREE…EXTREMES (2004) is a better movie overall and managed to snag two very big directors. The first segment, DUMPLINGS, comes from Hong Kong and was written by Lilian Lee and directed by Fruit Chan (who also expanded DUMPLINGS afterwards into a feature-length film). The beautiful Ling Bai stars as Mei a sort-of witch whose dumplings promise the eater rejuvenation of their youth. Mei’s secret ingredient is aborted fetuses (she also happens to be an abortionist). Li, a television personality is getting older and is not happy about it. To keep her job and the attention of her older husband Li goes to see Mei for some dumplings. After a while Li discovers Mei’s secret but it doesn’t stop her from eating the dumplings.
The second segment is CUT from Korea and it was written and directed by Chan Wook-park (who also gave us 2003’s OLD BOY). It opens with what appears to be a vampire, but it is only a movie. A disgruntled bit-part actor kidnaps the movie’s director and holds him hostage on the movie set. The director awakens to find his pianist-wife tied to a piano and is told that he has a choice to make. In order to keep his wife from having her fingers chopped off at five minute intervals he must strangle a little boy.
BOX from Japan is the third and final segment. It was written by Haruko Fukushima and Bun Saikou and directed by Takashi Miike (director of 1999’s AUDITION, among others). Kyoko, a female novelist, is tormented by nightmares of her twin sister who died when they were children. Through flashbacks we learn that the girls were circus performers and Shoko died in a fire while trapped in a small box the girls used during their performances. Shoko appears to Kyoko briefly, which leads to the assumption that Kyoko is feeling guilty for her sister’s death.
This is definitely the stronger of the two movies, especially with the presence of Park and Miike, among the best directors in all of Southeast Asia. DUMPLINGS tells a disturbing story of the lengths a woman will go to in order to keep the things she has in her life. The end is amazingly horrifying as Li looks for a new source of the rejuvenation process when Mei no longer provides her dumplings. Li actually begins to appear almost corpse-like, which only adds to the idea of her transformation into a monster. It begs the question “What happens to women in a society that prizes youth above all else?” CUT is a gruesome story with elements reminiscent of Italian horror. The wife is bound and gagged and waiting to be freed by her husband….she expects him to kill the boy. The director has a conscience, though. He doesn’t want to see his wife suffer, but can’t bring himself to commit murder. As the story progresses we see a crack in the façade of their marriage, but we don’t learn anything of the psycho actor’s intentions. I also felt the segment a little long and at times a bit confusing but this was Park’s first foray into the horror genre. It’s still a pretty good segment. BOX is my favorite of the three….actually it’s my favorite segment from either movie. Okay so I’m a bit biased when it comes to Takashi Miike. Miike uses ambiguity to his advantage here as it stresses the torment Kyoko suffers. The same actor plays both Kyoko’s editor and stepfather which leaves the viewer wondering if Kyoko is projecting some aspect of her nightmares. There are hints of abuse and incest against the girls, but there are also hints of jealousy on the part of Kyoko towards Shoko. The line between reality, dreams and flashbacks begins to blur and casts doubt on Kyoko’s sanity. This is a genuinely disturbing short film and classic Miike. He never tells a story in a straight line. While talking about BOX, Miike described his vision as a metaphor….Kyoko isn’t stuck in her situation, she’s stuck in her own body. He says “That’s the metaphor, and the fact that you cannot get out of your own body is quite horrifying to me.” Even death would not be a release.
While both are good movies, if you’re only going to see one definitely go for THREE…EXTREMES (2004). While 3EXTREMES II was a good movie overall, the segment MEMORIES was weak and drags it down. THREE…EXTREMES is strong throughout with just a slight hiccup in CUT. Besides, how could you go wrong with a segment directed by Miike?
© Copyright 2010 by Colleen Wanglund