Plenty of vile little secrets and ghastly urges are explored in the stylishly made Asian-fusion horror triptych, “Three … Extremes.” Enlisting three higher profile directors than “Three,” the 2002 omnibus that spawned this followup, the bracingly twisted new pic unites Japanese cult figure Takashi Miike, Korean Cannes prize winner Park Chan-Wook and Hong Kong’s Fruit Chan, who delivers the most extreme offering . Acquired out of the Venice fest by Lions Gate, this smartly packaged series should tickle both genre enthusiasts and fans of cutting-edge East Asian cinema, with its biggest payoff on DVD.
Lions Gate earlier this year picked up “Three,” the first in a planned pan-Asian trilogy being packaged by Applause Pictures. “Three” teamed Korean director Kim Jee-Woon, Thailand’s Nonzee Nimibutr and Peter Ho-Sun Chan from Hong Kong.
In addition to the more widely known triple-act of directors on board for the second installment, “Extreme” is boosted by the ravishing images and caressing camera of ace cinematographer Christopher Doyle on Chan’s wicked wonton tale, “Dumplings.”
An aging former actress whose husband’s attention is straying , Qing (Miriam Yeung) seeks rejuvenation via the potent dumplings prepared by Mei (Bai Ling), a former abortionist who commands more remuneration helping women erase their wrinkles. With her errant husband (Tony Ka-Fai Leung) back in line, Qing even appears willing to overlook some unforeseen side effects.
Likely to outrage puritanical sensibilities while appealing to others with its brazen nastiness and savage skewering of the obsession with youth, the story takes the liposuction fat recycling of “Fight Club” several horrific steps further. It also provides a morbid spin on China’s One Child Family policy.
More appealing here than in her English-language roles, Bai has fun with the slovenly but sensual witchdoctor, while Yeung transitions nicely from her initial poise through shocked revulsion to grim purposefulness.
Radically different from his Cannes Grand Jury Prize honoree “Old Boy,” Park’s “Cut” deliciously explores the horror genre from within. Segueing neatly from Chan’s episode via a witty audio link, the story concerns successful film director Ryu (Lee Byung-Hun), who wraps a day’s shooting on his latest vampire pic and returns home to find an intruder.
Knocked out and transported back to the set, Ryu wakes up to find his pianist wife (Gang Hye-Jung) bound to her instrument by a maze of wires, her fingers glued to the keys. Their captor (Lim Won-Hee) is a resentful extra from Ryu’s films, whose monstrous demands push the husband and wife to increasingly barbaric behavior.
Mixing macabre humor with crisp visuals and bold use of color, Park’s bloodbath is markedly different in tone from Miike’s “Box.” That entry departs from the Japanese director’s usually edgy, frenetic terrain to tell a more psychologically creepy story that unfolds with disquieting stillness and a cool, wintry look.
Drifting freely between dark imagination, ghostly visitations, memories and confused actuality, ethereally beautiful novelist Kyoko (Kyoko Hasegawa) dwells on her traumatic childhood. Part of a magic act, 10-year-old Kyoko (Mai Suzuki) was constantly overshadowed by her twin sister Shoko (Yuu Suzuki), who earned greater praise from their surrogate father Hikita (Atsuro Watabe). When Kyoko’s actions inadvertently caused a tragic accident, Hikita vanished, seemingly to resurface in the present.
The final seg is more dreamy and lyrical and, although it has less narrative clarity than the others, is arresting in a different way. As always in thematically bound portmanteau projects, a certain unevenness of tone and style is inevitable. But, like an exotic, stir-fried take on hoary “Tales From the Crypt” fare, the three chapters here fit enjoyably together, sharing polished, distinctive visuals and effective scores.