Thursday, April 06, 2006


Three Extremes is an anthology film featuring films by two of my favorite directors: Chanwook Park and Takashi Miike, as well another film with cinematography by the world's best cinematographer, Christoher Doyle. It's a really good film, but one that reveals some of the problems of the anthology format. Unlike Eros, this is a case where all the films are pretty successful, but it's exhausting watching them all in a row.

The first film is the one I'd heard the most about, Fruit Chan's Dumplings. The basic premise here is fantastically nasty and is played out in an interesting way. The film goes into issues surrounding aging and through the use of a genre twist, is able to comment on the absurdity of plastic surgery and the ridiculous lengths that people will to to keep looking young.

I loved all the stuff with Bai Ling. In America, she's primarily known for her ridiculous VH1 karaoke appearances, but in this film she plays a witchy character who seems right out of a fairy tale. In fact, the whole short has a very fairy tale, be careful what you wish for quality. So, Bai Ling's character is that crazy woman in the woods offering our innocent heroine what she wants, ignorant of the potential moral consequences that it could have.

The film isn't as explicitly disturbing as something like Oldboy's graphic torture scenes, the content is more about being conceptually uncomfortable. There are some very nasty scenes, most notably a bathtub abortion sequence that's equally disturbing for its visuals and the narrative implications of what's happening.

The interesting thing about the film is the way this deviant behavior seems to bring this woman to life. She starts out wanting to become younger so that she can keep her husband's attention, however by the end he is secondary and it's her own appetites that take precedence. This brilliantly articulated in the scene where she licks the blood off her face. By the end of the story the roles are reversed and she has total power over her husband, which is conveyed in the fantastic long take of the two of them in the bedroom. As always, Christopher Doyle shoots a really dynamic film, his camera bringing beauty to even the most grotesque of moments. And big props to the sound effects here, they're critical on selling the nastiness of the dumplings.

The second film, Cut, is by Chanwook Park, who's directed two of the best films of recent years, Oldboy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. However, this film seems to be a bit of an autopilot exercise, playing on the same themes as his Revenge trilogy films, but without the narrative depth. The film is basically one lengthy sadistic torture scene, and while similar scenes worked as part of his other films, to make it the entire movie is a bit excessive.

Visually, this is still a striking work. The black and white floor and elaborate net of wires holding his wife to the piano were great visual touches. I also really liked the moments of comedy sprinkled throughout the film, the excessiveness of the opening vampire segment was a particular highlight.

However, the film ultimately doesn't really end up going anywhere. It presents the basic idea, lets it play out for a while, then ends with a somewhat nonsensical twist. It seems to imply that this guy's son, through his desire for revenge, is able to affect the director's perception and cause him to kill his wife. I do love the buildup to that with the scenes that seem to flip around each other in a surreal 2-D way, but that doesn't make up for the fact that the conclusion goes for shock value at the expense of any kind of logic. Maybe there's a better explanation that I missed, but as it was, it took me out of the story.

The final film, Miike's 'Box' is my favorite of the three. However, I wasn't able to fully enjoy it because I was pretty worn out by the time we got to it. It was almost 90 minutes into the film, which isn't the ideal time to enjoy a slow paced, contemplative film. I think this would have been better suited as the first film, lulling you into a calm, making the extremes of the other two even more notable.

But even with that, this is still a fantastic film. Miike's films almost always take place in a world that's on the border of dream and reality, not quite sticking to either one. Here, we've got a woman who's haunted by dreams of her sister's death. Visually, this is one of the best things I've seen by Miike. It has the restrained pacing of the first half of Audition, but an even greater focus on the beauty and power of the images. The performances they do exist in that Club Silencio style world, performing for the viewer rather than a physical audience, and that gives Miike more excuse to mess around with form in depicting the performance.

It's a very quiet film, most of the drama between the twins and their father is played out silently, using the visuals to build the drama. This works really well in setting a mood, which is punctured by the ignition of the box. That was the one moment in the film that actuallly made me jump, because it was a sudden burst of violence after all this quiet.

Miike can go to excess with the best, but here his restrained approach comes off looking great next to the more obvious nastiness of the first two films. This is a more psychological piece and Kyoko's troubles are quite interesting. She is in an odd relation to her trauma because it simultaneously haunts her dreams and provides her with the material for her novels.

This film was pitched with the tagline: "From the Nightmares of 3 Horror Masters," and with this story, Miike seems to be explicitly commenting on the idea of someone using their own traumas to construct a story. I think this is easily the best of the three films and I'm going to check it out on its own, apart from the anthology to really evaluate it.

I've seen a bunch of Miike recently and he's consistently impressed it. For a guy who's so notoriously prolific, all his films have a unique feel and are skillfully crafted. I'm definitely going to check out more of his stuff soon.

In conclusion, I'd say that Three Extremes was a pretty successful anthology film. You didn't get the sense that these guys were phoning it in, all the films were gorgeous and had something to say. The Box in particular lingers with me of a wonderful example of how to use the limitations of the short film to your advantage.


Aditya Gokhale said...

Nice blog..
But referring to "Box"..where in the film is it ever clear that the guy is their father??

Anonymous said...

I agree with Aditya. I never picked up on the father/daughter thing. It must not've made it through translation I guess

Anonymous said...

actually, i read somewhere that the guy in "Box" is actually their master and the ghost twin actually had some sort of sexual relationship with him which made the older twin jealous. However, it was depicted in the subtlest way that most audience actual don't interpret the relationship correctly.

Picture edit said...

Good post! I also have to agree with Aditya. We never saw it clearly that the guy was their father.