Sunday, September 06, 2009

Three… Extremes


Three… Extremes was a 2004 anthology collection of three short films from different parts of Asia and I want to look at the content of two of them. The third, just to mention it, was the Japanese film Box directed by Takashi Miike.

As for the other two, the segment from Hong Kong was Dumplings. This was directed by Fruit Chan and I intend to look at this under ‘Vamp or Not?’

There was a Korean film also, called Cut, by Chan-wook Park. This one will be looked at under ‘Honourable Mentions’.

Honourable Mentions: Three… Extremes: Cut

the biteCut starts off with a man (Gyu-sik Kim) embraced by a woman (Jung-ah Yum), her head is at his neck and the sucking noises reveal to us that she is a vampire and she feeds. It is a marvellous scene as the feed seems to go on and on and on… This is no minor bite and fall, this is a major feed. She lets him go and he remains in position and she removes metallic fangs when her mobile phone rings. She was just having dinner and he is still frozen, she says.

in painThe caller wants her to play piano and she attempts to do so. However she begins to get pains in her stomach. Was the food past its expiration date? She crawls on all fours and the camera pans backwards and we realise we are in a film studio and this is a film in production. As for what happens to the vampire woman character, we see her on a monitor copiously vomiting blood. Interestingly the film is entitled – it would appear – Live Evil, though the ‘evil’ is not only a palindrome but represented on logo as a mirror image of the ‘live’. You will recall that there is now a vampire movie called Live Evil.

The rest of the film follows a terror visited on the director (Byung-hun Lee) and his wife (Hye-jeong Kang).

Vamp or Not? Three… Extremes: Dumplings

Ling Bai as MeiThis film by Fruit Chan is powerful because it dares to go to extremes and to trip through a myriad taboos with a casual air around it that belies said taboos. It begins with a woman, clearly affluent, called Li (Miriam Yeung Chin Wah) walking through a run down estate and knocking on the door of a flat. She has come to see Mei (Ling Bai, who we last saw in the Breed) whose dumplings are said to be the most expensive but the best. Li was an actress years before but retired from the limelight.

cooking dumplingsThey sit and talk. Mei asks how old Li thinks she is and Li suggests that she is in her thirties, at the most. Mei confides that she is much older and that folks call her Aunt Mei. She cooks up some dumplings, explaining how she does the dough but keeping the other woman out of her kitchen. Eventually Li is given a dumpling soup; the dumplings are almost translucent revealing their pink innards. Mei tells her that for women to rejuvenate they must start from the inside and she must not think of what the dumpling was. Mei sings a song from her youth and Li sweats as she eats.

We see a man (Tony Leung Ka Fai) having sex with a younger woman. In the next scene we realise that he is Li’s husband as he explains that he is off on a trip. It is clear that his affairs are not unknown to Li, though not spoken of. We also see Aunt Mei in a hospital talking to a nurse. She tells Mei that security has been tightened, it is the last the nurse can get and that she should not return for a couple of weeks. They have airport like scanners in the hospital and check her lunch pail. At their next meeting Li asks Mei for faster results and Mei claims that the ingredients are best at 5 or 6 months. She claims the crunchiness of the current dumplings are down to hands and feet. It is clear to the viewer that they are talking about foetuses.

the secret ingredientAs Li leaves a woman (So-Fun Wong) turns up with her daughter Kate (Miki Yeung). Kate is a pregnant schoolgirl and Mei performs a backroom abortion. When Li returns she sneaks into the kitchen as Mei starts cooking and sees the foetus – she runs from the flat and heaves. Eventually, however, she returns. It is clear that Li knew what she was eating – it was being faced with the reality that affected her so. Mei tells her it is a rarity, a boy foetus (boys would not tend to be aborted in China) from a healthy schoolgirl. She eats the next batch of dumplings and then gets a call from her husband – he has broken his leg. Despite the traction he is in he seems to find her more attractive and they get it on – note that through the film Li doesn’t look any younger, though perhaps a little more radiant, to the viewer.

Kate is on a bus when she starts to bleed, she collapses in the street bleeding profusely. Li meanwhile is throwing a dinner party. The guests, impressed by her appearance, start to notice a strange fishy smell and she develops a rash on her neck and hands. She leaves her guests and runs a fragrant bath (clearly she is the source of the smell) and phones Mei. Mei says that the foetus was rare because its father was also its grandfather and Li exclaims that it was cursed. Mei mentions that they are re-running her show on TV, reminding her of what she seeks to attain. However she does go to a doctor and discovers that, despite previously being infertile, she is now 2 months pregnant.

bleedingThe police raid Kate’s erstwhile home as her mother has murdered her father. From the shrine, which we can see in the home, it is clear that Kate died. They also raid Mei’s home, something Li observes – though Mei has already scarpered. At home Li sits in a bath, with an implement and self aborts. She bleeds from the mouth as she does this but licks the blood away with, what seems, an unnaturally long tongue. If we were going anywhere with that it is not explained as we see her eating dumplings again and the film ends.

Li and MeiGiven the nature of the food she attempts to regenerate with, this is clearly a controversial film. For our purposes, however, I can see two areas that lead this towards vampire. Firstly it is the nature of the youth treatment. Clearly it is a version of the Báthory legend – though instead of bathing in blood they are eating unborn children. Yes it is cannibalism but it seems to have the desired result – in the case of Mei at least and in the perceptions of those around Li. It is also clear that those involved know what they are doing; they take the conscious decision to eat the unborn. Secondly I can’t help but think that the tongue, which we see at the end, was an oblique reference. This might be a film of Chinese origin but folklore from many Asian countries have vampires that devour unborn or young babies – both the Penanggalan and Aswang spring to mind and both creatures have long probing tongues they use to feed.

Ultimately I would say that dumplings should be classed as a variant vampire flick. The short was expanded later into a feature and I hope to bring that to you at some point in the future.

The imdb page for Three… Extremes is here.

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