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Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Three... Extremes (2004)

Directors: Fruit Chan, Park Chan-wook and Takashi Miike

For some reason the 2004 Asian film Saam gaang yi was released in the West as Three... Extremes, while its 2002 predecessor Saam gaang became Three Extremes 2. Maybe the key to that bizarre titling is that the original was successful but the followup was made by some seriously important names even to a western audience. Just look at the directors for a start: Fruit Chan, Park Chan-wook and Takashi Miike. Each gets forty minutes or so to play with and each comes up with a memorable film.

Park is the Korean director of JSA: Joint Security Area and the trilogy of Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, Oldboy and Lady Vengeance. Miike from Japan is legendary for gory shockers like Ichi the Killer and Audition but who has a seriously versatile talent. The Chinese director Fruit Chan may be the least known of the three, at least to western eyes, but he has a string of award winning films to his credit. He opens up with a segment called Dumplings, which is the most memorable of the three from a pure ick factor and it was duly expanded into a feature length movie. It features Miriam Yeung, Bai Ling from no end of western films and a guest appearance by Tony Leung Ka-Fei, along with cinematography by the unparalleled Christopher Doyle.

It plays off the quest for physical perfection via diet and obviously has the intention of persuading us to never eat dumplings again. The dumplings in this film are made by Aunt Mei, played by Bai Ling, and they're special dumplings that have special rejuvenating powers. Mrs Li is the customer, a former actress played by Miriam Yeung, who looks young but wants to look younger still, especially as she's feeling that her husband is paying less attention to her. However she has to deal with the knowledge of Aunt Mei's secret ingredient, and while I won't spoil that I'm sure you can imagine that it's something really really bad.

Park's segment, Cut, is the most divinely twisted, as you'd expect. It features Lee Byung-hung from JSA: Joint Security Area as a film director called Ryu Ji-ho, along with Lim Won-hee and Gang Hye-jung and with a special appearance by Yum Jung-ah as a actress playing a vampire in one of Ryu's films. Ryu seems to be a good guy, and bizarrely that turns out to be his undoing. A complete nutjob extra who has appeared in walk on parts in all five of his films masterminds a performance of his own that preys on his goodness.

The nutjob's twisted logic suggests that it's somehow OK to be a bad guy if you're rich because hey, the world sucks anyway. If a good guy is rich too then it throws everything out of balance. So he tangles the director's wife up in a spider web of ropes at her piano and begins chopping her fingers off with an axe. He gives Ryu, who he ties to the wall with a bungee cord, one way of saving her: to strangle a young girl to death right there in the room. Needless to say there are twists and they're all twisted and sadistic and very cool indeed. Lee is excellent, as is Gang Hye-jung as his wife, Mi-Ran, but they're both overshadowed by Lim Won-hee as the twisted extra. He gets a versatile and quirky role, the sort of part I'd expect Park to cast Ha-kyun Shin in, and he excels, with his movements, his straight face and his guttural sounds. Very cool indeed.

Miike's film is Box, very unlike anything I've seen Miike direct before. It's about a left handed novelist (I can't help feeling that the left handed part means something, but I can't work out what) called Kyoko who can't type. She used to be one of a pair of sisters who performed in a magical contortionist act which ended very badly, with her sister Shoko burned to death in a box and the magician scarred and gone. Her sister is still around, though we don't really know whether it's as a ghost or as a tortured figment of her imagination.

It's a slow story, but it has female Asian contortionist twins in it and there's not much better in this wide world than female Asian contortionist twins. The acting is decent and is focused almost entirely around two actors: Kyoko Hasegawa as her namesake Kyoko and Atsuro Watabe in a double role. However it's not the acting that makes this one, it's the way that the film is put together. Much of it is done without sound, though it's not silent. It's just very careful in its very selective use of sound to highlight certain things. It's clever and beautiful, while containing much that is fragmented and jerky in that freaky jerky Japanese way.

Overall, the three stories are very different and perhaps don't fit entirely well together, but each is solid in its own way and I'm very interested in seeing the first Three... Extremes film, Three... Extremes 2.

1 comment:

1minutefilmreview said...

Nice review. Loved the film too. The first 'Three' is not as haunting as this though.