Wednesday, January 27, 2010

From π to Zack and Miri: Part 2: 3 Extremes

From Hong Kong director Fruit Chan, Korean director Park Chan-Wook, and Japanese director Takashi Miike comes this anthology of demented stories. An alternate opening sentence can be: it is a movie from those crazy asians.

Fruit Chan's segment "Dumplings" comes first, and it centers on a woman wanting eternal youth and the measures she will go to achieve her goals. She visits a mysterious woman in an apartment who makes special dumplings that are said to restore youth and beauty. As the woman becomes more obsessed with eating the dumplings and regaining her smooth skin from her youth, more about how the dumplings are made is also brought to light. Knowing that the title is 3 Extremes should clue you in on what is going on, but if you don't guess early, hints are dropped in, then you are hit over the head with the cook's other line of work, and then just shown the whole thing. Of course, the story is more about what price beauty than being shocked, and the main character will do anything for her beauty, as is found out while watching this segment.

The second segment is Park Chan-Wook's "Cut", about a director who is nothing but nice to the cast and crew of the horror movie he is making. But when he arrives home, which the movie set is an exact replica of, he is attacked and wakes up to find himself back on set. His kidnapper, already having kidnapped his wife, then begins a mental torture of the director to stop the man from being so nice.

The final segment is Takashi Miike's "Box". This segment focuses on a young writer who was a ballet/contortionist with her sister at a young age, with their finale being they would fold up into boxes and disappear. Like most of Miike's work, this is at times confusing, with strange events and fever dream logic flowing throughout, before leading to a just as strange closing.

The one advantage this anthology has is three top directors working on it. The cameras are set up wonderfully, the lighting works, and the sound design fits. These are three directors at the tops of their game. The actors are also very good. These are top notch productions.

But none of the segments are particularly great. "Dumplings" takes a one note concept and plays it out as far as they can take it. "Cut" is a basic Tales From the Crypt episode. And "Box" is a calm version of Miike. Miike is Miike, love him or hate him. And here he spends long sequences with silence, which as it does in most of his work lead to some strange places later in the story.

Overall, this anthology is one of the better anthology movies out there. There is no overarching storyling forcing things together, nor cheap bookends for the story. Instead, we get three decent tales told one after another, the only connecting point being they are all a bit crazy.

Included in the set is a full feature version of "Dumplings". The feature version lays the clues out stronger starting from the beginning, lines that were cut to keep some measure of mystery are back in, and certain characters are shown to be participating in their activities on extra occasions so as to hammer home what kind of person they are. The feature version is interesting, but suffers from too much extra material, working better in the condensed version.

Next: 12 Monkeys



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