Three…Extremes (Saam gaang yi) (2004)

three-extremesI can’t tell you how long it’s been since we’ve had a great anthology horror film. It’s been a while, because I really can’t remember the last great anthology film we were given in theaters or home video, but “Three… Extremes” is a surefire breath of fresh air for the horror genre, and one that thankfully did not go unappreciated. I’ve waited a long time to finally see this film, and apparently the wait was utterly worth it, in the end. Take three excellent Asian directors, and let them go hog wild on-screen with rarely a step back into discretion. Fuck “Masters of Horror,” these three directors take you to school. In these three incredibly directed tales, we’re taken through the ringer of the three extremes of humanity.

The extremes of our vanity, the extremes of our morals, and the extremes of our sub-conscious, and not a single stone goes unturned, as the trio of directors excel at creating three truly gruesome and yet so volatile stories that shock while never dismissing the dignity behind the tales. On the chopping block is “Dumplings,” a film starring Maggie Myeung as a once loved trophy wife who is beginning to notice her husband’s lack of affection. Desperation reaches a new high when she comes in contact with an eccentric woman named Aunt Mei (Bai Ling at her most zany), who charges her a pretty penny for her special dumplings, that can surely restore her youth. Her product is, of course, aborted fetuses from a low rent hospital, which are the key ingredient in her delicacy. This is the absolute strongest of the entry is by far Chan’s film, as it not only reaches new heights of stomach churning effects, but it also manages to spark social commentary in the process. The message of the rich preying on the poor’s misfortune’s to feed their vanity, while dismissing the more disgusting issue behind the origin of the child is evident and all too relevant in this day and age.

Sound is the key instrument here towards building tension and suspense, and preying on our stomach which Chan uses with excellent effect that makes “Dumplings” not only a test on our gag reflex but our ability to incorporate sound with this particularly disgusting venture featured. The sound of the fetus bones grinding down under the teeth of Myeung is particularly gruesome to behold. Suffice it to say, I’m never eating dumplings again. Chan’s film is consistently creepy with great mounting tension, and a story that builds like a powder keg that builds to a powerful climax. Chan’s short film is brutally controversial, and that’s just the way I likes it. “Cut” is sadly the weakest, as it explores the extremes of morality, and a high profile director’s limits in the face of losing a loved one. Wook’s film toys with us from the very beginning as he plays with our grasp of illusion and reality, in a world where the line is blurred, as a young director is attacked one night in his mansion to find himself hostage at the hands of a psychotic extra.

Wook’s film, as has become prevalent, is based around revenge, and the revenge of one man against a man he perceives to be his greatest competition in a world he’s attempting to survive in. Wook’s story only becomes sicker as it progresses, but the slight of hand once again confirms his ability to slip the rug out from under us and we’re left questioning the story elements that are heavily rooted in Lynchian proportions, and it’s just an overall flat entry, sadly. Takashi Miike’s story is quite possibly the most abstract and unusual, and will surely test the patience of the audience who witnessed gore and torture for the first half only to have what it basically a psychological study of dreams and the inner desires and torments of twins. “Box” is never a film that’s clearly defined as dream or reality, only as a movie that drifts back and forth so much, you’re never too trusting of Miike after a while.

A young author (Kyoko Hasegawa) who hides off in her abandoned office, finds herself confronting her own demons yet again as she realizes she’s being haunted by the ghost of her twin sister, and suddenly is brought back to the place where she accidentally murdered her father and sibling. Exploring themes of incest, sibling rivalries, and the ability of demons to manifest themselves in our lives, and with rather fantastic direction, Miike is able to perfectly pinpoint the surrealism of dreams, and nightmares, while dismissing the traditional narrative present in the first two movies, for the sake of an individual and harrowing scenario. “Box” may feel like a completely disconnected story from the two, but it completely keeps the audience at odds, debating the meanings of Miike’s subtle symbolism, and ends the trilogy on a perfectly unusual, and grotesque note. All of which is a wonderful little capper to a great film. In spite of some caveats, “Three… Extremes” is a great horror anthology that thankfully restores my faith in the anthology gimmick that Hollywood completely diminished years ago.