“Three…Extremes” – A.J. Hakari

In contrast to the recent trend of Americanizing Asian films, Three…Extremes delivers a trio of terrifying tales from different Asian directors. Each of these short movies serves as a fine example of how creative and envelope-pushing these foreign fright films can be in comparison to U.S. movies like White Noise and Hide and Seek, their creativity and energy dwarfing such Western dead time stories by a pretty healthy margin.

The first story, “Dumplings,” comes from Hong Kong’s Fruit Chan. “Dumplings” is the tale of a former actress (Miriam Yeung) who, after realizing her beauty and marriage are starting to fade away, turns to an eccentric cook (Bai Ling) whose dumplings are said to maintain one’s youth. The dish certainly does the trick, but the actress must decide at what cost she wants to restore her good looks, especially after learning about the secret ingredient in the cook’s special dumplings…

Korean filmmaker Chan-wook Park (Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) helms the second vignette, “Cut.” A deranged movie extra (Won-hee Lim) kidnaps the director of a horror film (Byung-hun Lee) and places him into a situation more horrifying than anything he could depict on screen. With his wife bound by piano wire, a child tied up on a sofa, and himself wrapped in a sheet that allows him to move only so far, the director is forced to play a sick game of cat-and-mouse that will only end when somebody dies.

The infamous Takashi Miike (Audition) gives us the film’s final vignette, the Japanese chiller “Box.” A young novelist (Kyoko Hasegawa) becomes haunted by memories from her childhood, forcing her to confront a terrible tragedy from her youth — one involving her sister, the circus act they performed in with their father, and a box that helped seal her current fate.

As with the best Asian horror films, Three…Extremes isn’t content to lay out a predictable stream of “gotcha!” scares and call it horror. Films like these get under your skin and in your head, disturbing you on a much darker and more human level than “lighter” fare like Final Destination 3 even dares to reach for. Three…Extremes is no exception, and although the premises of each short are outrageous, their directors do a great job of maintaining that human element which is so essential in enhancing the terror — not just for the audience but for the characters as well. Each story represents a scary, artistic, and downright twisted slice of horror art, adding up to one of the more consistent anthology films produced to date.

“Dumplings” — a graphic and stomach-churning meditation on the pursuit of eternal beauty and how far one would go to stay young — is the best and most screwed-up story of the bunch. The message is carried out through a plot brimming with grim twists and turns, a series of one jaw-dropping revelation after another highlighted by quirky performances. All this keeps you glued to the screen even though your gut tells you to look away.

“Cut,” the weaker of the shorts, amounts to some insane build-up material capped off by a disappointing anticlimax. Still, the story boasts a corker of an idea, discussing how an essentially good man is forced to prove his own capacity for evil, but the execution leaves something to be desired, leaning a little too much on amping up the style and leaving the duty of fleshing out the premise in the dust. “Cut” has its share of twists and rings with a diabolical sense of playfulness, but it’s a shaky middle act for this horror show.

For “Box,” Takashi Miike tones down the outlandishly violent style he’s notorious for to deliver a more tragic, somber, and subtly-told tale. “Box” is an interesting and absorbing little piece about sibling rivalry, incest, jealousy, and how much power childhood memories have over us later in life. This premise is draped over with a cloak of dread and gloom, preventing it from slipping into a lesser, more straightforward kind of horror. A word of warning, though: the ending comes out of nowhere and really makes no sense at all, the one detraction in an otherwise intriguing tale.

The vignettes of Three…Extremes all have their strengths and weaknesses, but each one in itself is more creative and lively than our own hack-and-slash opuses of recent years, all combining to help the film as a whole succeed in conveying its own bizarre brand of spookiness.

Rating: ★★★☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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