SFIFF 2005: Three Extremes

three_extremes.jpgThree Extremes, playing at the 2005 San Francisco International Film Festival, offers a smorgasbord of three horror shorts from some of East Asia's best known directors:

Dumplings (dir Fruit Chan, Hong Kong 2004): An ex Hong Kong soap star comes across a purveyor of dumplings that promise youthful rejuvenation. But can she stomach the secret ingredient?

Cut (dir Park Chan-Wook, Korea 2004): A horror movie director comes home one night to find an unexpected visitor who proceeds to stage his own night of terror featuring the director and his wife.

Box (dir Takashi Miike, Japan 2004): An author dreams of being buried alive in a box while she suffocates inside covered in a plastic sheet. Her dream is rooted in her childhood as a contortionist when she competed with her sister for the attentions of a magician.

Of the three shorts, we liked Dumplings best. There were times we saw the women in the audience gasp, so nasty were the horrors implied. There was a lot of blood, particularly later on, but the real effectiveness of this piece lay in the sound design and Christopher Doyle's exemplary cinematography. Otherworldy machinery squeaked menacingly in the background while we heard every crunchy bite taken of the dumplings up close and personal. Similarly, the images on the screen packed a mean punch: an extreme close up of a cleaver knife chopping something unidentifiable but grisly; a woman's neck; clouds of blood swirling in water.

The main value of Cut, the second entry, lies in the game the director, Park Chan-Wook, plays with the audience - will he dare do it or won't he? In the process, Park shows he takes no prisoners - gouts of blood are shed, digits cleaved, a young kid is nearly strangled (unthinkable in Hollywood) and our jaw drops further and further until the last, horrific, denouement. Will the lead character, the horror movie director, or his wife escape alive? We're just not sure and we remain riveted to the screen. As in Old Boy, revenge is on the menu and a bit of consideration shows up many plot holes in both. But the film developed many other themes that allowed it to leap over any logical flaws. In a more limited time, Park doesn't have that same space.

Box is the most restrained of the trio - it didn't have the same sledgehammer effect of the other two. While it played effectively with the line separating dreams and reality, the payoff wasn't as satisfying as the other two. But only by comparison!

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- April 24, 2005 11:50 PM // Film , Review