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April 06, 2006

Three Extremes


Saam gaang yi
Takashi Miike, Fruit Chan and Park Chan-Wook
Mega Star Region 0 DVD

Anthology films can be a bit of a challenge to evaluate because sometimes one or two parts are better than the whole. Also, they are assembled so that the best sequence is usually the last one. Many times, just knowing who the director is can be enough of a clue as to the quality of the segment. Even though the episodes filmed in The Twilight Zone were probably familiar to those who grew up watching the television series, there should have been no surprise that George Miller outdid the other contributors for sheer panache. Spirits of the Dead not only proves that no one can top Federico Fellini, but that there was really no other reason to see Vadim or even Malle's contributions.

My reaction to Three Extremes is a bit different. The three directors are different in style from each other, but I don't feel that one has necessarily topped the others. I may be a bit hobbled in adequately judging the film in that while I am fairly familiar with Takashi Miike, my only only exposure to Park Chan-Wook has been Oldboy. I have not seen anything by Fruit Chan. I will not extensively analyze the trilogy, but a few words are in order.

Miike's episode, "Box", is unlike the other films I have seen. Unlike previous films with their manic energy and transgressive activities, "Box" is extemely formal and austere. Most scenes have no more than three people in environments that seem removed from the rest of the world. The film follows the dream, or perhaps it is a dream within a dream, of a young woman haunted by memories of her sister. More so than Audition, this is the quietest film I've seen by Miike with shots of Kyoko Hasegawa running through snow covered fields, or simply standing in a sparsely decorated office. A shortcut description would be to imagine a J-horror film directed by Robert Bresson with a twist ending courtesy of Brian De Palma. For those interested in Miike, he has a translated blog in Japan Film News.

Dumplings is my first exposure to Fruit Chan. While the film has allegorical underpinnings, one can also enjoy it as a warning that sometimes it's better not to know all the details about the food one eats. The story originated from a novella by Lilian Lee, a prolific Hong Kong author best known for Farewell My Concubine. "Dumplings" also features a credible performance by Bai Ling which won her Best Supporting Actress from the Hong Kong Film Awards and the Golden Horse Awards. Christopher Doyle's cinematography features loving close-ups of boiling water, translucent dumplings, and eyes and lips.

Park Chan-Wook's "Cut" is about a filmmaker trapped in a real life nightmare on a movie set. Park plays with the notion of cinematic reality so that in a couple of occassions, what appears to be real within its context, turns out to be action on a film set. The title refers to both the director's command when shooting a film, as well as the action with a knife or ax. Park refers to Korean filmmaking as well as having scenes acting both as figurative and literal mirror images, both as straight reflections and as fun house images twisted around. Based on Park's discussion of future projects, "Cut" might be considered a preview of things to come.

Posted by peter at April 6, 2006 12:15 AM