Three… Extremes is both an obscure and a completely appropriate title for this cross-cultural horror film anthology. Obscure because, as titles go, usually you can kind of work out what you’ll be watching or at least the genre it’s going to be presented in, just from the title. This title, however, doesn’t give away a lot up front. I mean, what’s with the ellipsis? Three dot dot dot Extremes. Yeah okay. Clever way to label it a sequel to Three right? After all, they could have called it Three 2.
Still, it’s not until you get under each segment’s skin that you start to realize why the title (and the ellipsis), at which point you start to realize exactly how appropriate – not to mention literal – the title really is.
First cab off the rank – Takeshi Miike’s Box, in a way, takes after the anthology’s title; quite literally there is a box involved (not a metaphor for a box or a symbol of a box, but a real, actual box, so people waiting for one won’t be disappointed, I’m happy to say). Miike’s segment comes off like a cross between Kitano’s Dolls for translucent, dreamy visuals and Hideo Nakata’s Ring for sheer frigging creepiness; pretty, sensual and distantly horrifying all at once. As the film opens, and at increasingly revealing intervals thereafter, Kyoko (Kyoko Hasegawa) softly relates a recurring dream involving plastic, a box, and a man (Atsuro Watabe, Inugami & Koi ga Shita) with a shovel in the snow. Eventually, her guilt and her longing are revealed in all their broken intensity and not once did Miike really raise his cinematic voice. His sets and the gentle pace of the story are deliberately staged to magnify the surreality of Kyoko’s world and it is utterly mesmerizing, right to the final frame.
In the second film, Fruit Chan, gives both ‘mesmerising’ and ‘extreme’ a somewhat different bent with Dumplings. It doesn’t hurt that Christopher Doyle is cinematographer here, but Chan’s direction, and the story that evolves under it is so calmly disturbing it’s impossible to look away. It’s not so much the lengths that aging actress Mrs Lee (Miriam Yeung) goes to to retain her youth and her husband (Tony Leung Ka Fei), but the calculated, rational way in which she does it. Bai Ling is charming and personable as the cook, making Chan’s subtle examination of the nature and extent of sanity even more shudder-inducing, because really, she’s just providing a service and what’s all the fuss about anyway? The fuss is that Dumplings was in fact so well received that Chan expanded it into it’s own feature film (and guess what the title is? Yup. Three… Extremes: Dumplings). You’ll never look at steamed foods the same way again, let me assure you.
Lastly, and perhaps I speak from a case of over-expectation here (or maybe I just missed the point), but Chan-wook Park’s Cut seems a little less focused than the other two films [ducks the instant outrage hurled for even daring to make such a statement…]. Don’t get me wrong; it’s still everything I am coming to expect from this director – mad, inspired and tantamount to getting beat unexpectedly around the head a few times – and it takes after both it’s namesake as well as the anthology’s title in the most literal of ways. But I felt after the Miike and Chan pieces, Park’s piece was more a commentary on reality than a shift in it. Placing the majority of the drama on a sound stage, and putting his characters in a position to be performing directly to the camera in many instances, the narrative seems to switch back and forth between direct and allegorical readings, and as a result, the confessions of the director (actor Byung Hun Lee, not the real director) had less impact for me than I expect they were supposed to. The segment lacks none of the director’s usual and superb skill in film-making though, with particularly spectacular lighting and such astonishing attention to both dialogue and detail that reality blurs even more. The piano wires (or what I assume are piano wires) are a particularly striking visual touch, and the completely bordering-on-laughable, horrifying insanity of it all is the perfect end to three… extremes.