THREE ... EXTREMES
The first episode Dumplings was later expanded by director Fruit Chan into a feature-length film Dumplings (2004). Due to film festival scheduling, I ended up seeing the feature film version of Dumplings less than a week before Three ... Extremes, where in fact they were originally released the other way around. The two are essentially the same film. The shorter version of the film here covers all the basic points in the longer film but what becomes apparent in watching both films close together is that Fruit Chan has not made two different versions but shot both films once. The longer version, Dumplings, features all the same shots that appear in the shorter version but there is more to each scene, while the shorter version has edited each scene and shot down to a bare minimum. The shorter version loses many of the aspects that work much better in the longer version we do not get to see the full hilarity of Bai Lings sublime performance, while Fruit Chans chiaroscuro directorial style is much the less. On the plus side, the shorter version works much more effectively as a horror story. The nonchalant humour comes more concisely and makes sharper contrast to the grim revelations about the dumplings containing human foetuses and the depiction of the abortions, whereas the longer version draws these things out to lesser effect.
The most notable change between the shorter and longer versions of Dumplings is in the ending. The feature film version has Miriam Yeung persuading her husbands lover to surrender her baby and the film goes out on her preparing to devour it, while this version has a much nastier and completely different ending where Miriam Yeung finds that she is pregnant herself and the episode goes out on her conducting a wire coat hanger abortion in the bathtub. It is not certain why Fruit Chan displaced the thrust of this scene onto the character of the husbands lover but the way the scene comes here certainly has a much grimmer and nastier kick than it did in the feature film version.
Park Chan-wooks episode Cut is another strong segment. Cut shows Park Chan-wook revisiting the basic idea of Oldboy a character abducted out of the blue and tortured in sadistic ways. Both Cut and Oldboy see the torture as a transformative psychological process where the central character is forced to peel away their life and confront harsh truths about the past, and in both films there come a number of jolting revelations. Like Takashi Miike, Park Chan-wook revels in sadistic and psychological extremes. There are some extremely nasty scenes in Cut with the wife having her fingers severed one at a time and of course the grim position the protagonist is put in where he is asked to choose to strangle the child or see his wife lose all her fingers. Lim Wong-hie, the actor playing the extra, plays to the gallery and is clearly having the time of his life (and proves an excellent dancer into the bargain). The opening of the segment also offers up a rather funny spoof of the Asian vampire movie.
Surprisingly, Takashi Miikes segment Box is the weakest of the three. Miike seems to have played against type and not gone the route that both Fruit Chan and Park Chan-wook have in pushing for queasy horror (which could almost be regarded as Miikes home territory) but instead created a more abstract arty subject. Box starts out seeming like a traditional Japanese ghost story. This soon moves into a blurred series of childhood reminisces and dream sequences where we get the impression that the protagonist is being haunted by the vengeful ghost of the twin sister she killed during childhood. Miike creates all manner of weird synchronicity between the sister locked in the box, the adult heroine trudging through the snow and then seemingly being folded up like a voodoo doll by her stepfather. Ultimately, Box seems like an experimental short where Takashi Miike is more interested in visual abstraction than he fully is in narrative. However, an unusual twist ending brings the episode together most effectively.