24
Apr
09

‘Sam Gang Yi’ (‘Three…Extremes’)

2004
Director: Fruit Chan, Takashi Miike, Chan-Wook Park
Starring: Ling Bai, Byung-Hun Lee, Kyoko Hasegawa

Definitely Worth Watching

‘Three…Extremes’ is a collaboration horror from three highly acclaimed directors of different countries; Fruit Chan (Hong Kong), Takashi Miike (Japan) and Chan-Wook Park (South Korea). The idea behind this is a sequel to the 2002 film called ‘Three’ (Also a collaboration, with different directors); however, the directors of that were not as established at the time. This collaboration consists of three 40 minute segments entitled ‘Dumplings’, ‘Cut’, and ‘Box’; each have their own stories and their own themes, taking you on a pretty disturbing ride.

The first segment is ‘Dumplings’, directed by Fruit Chan. Later released as a feature length production, this tells a story evocative of ‘The Fountain of Youth’ in which a woman, ‘Mrs. Li’, seeks to restrain her aging process; she meets ‘Aunt Mei’ (Ling Bai) who claims to make dumplings which will grant her wish, and also implies she is living proof. However, the dumplings are not all they seem to be.
So, we have a rather familiar tale with a slight twist on it, what’s the big deal?
Well, it’s part of a collection of horror segments, so you’re instantly expecting something a little more than the ordinary ‘drink this cup of water, and tada, you’re 18 again’.
The initial audio is quite cliché, a typically ‘horror’ sounding composition played over the opening shots of the film, which can instantly throw off a viewer into an early sense of dismissal. Though, if you have patience and an open mind, it can become a fairly enthralling piece.
Trepidation does come into it at certain points, but isn’t really that consistent. There are also a couple small sub-plots within this short film that aren’t really developed upon in such a way that makes you care about them, there are also some minor points to these side stories that don’t altogether make complete sense; the storytelling of this segment isn’t particularly well done. The film doesn’t seem to flow that greatly, and this leads to suspicions that these 40 minutes may have just been edited out of the longer piece, meaning the full feature might have more depth and clarity.
This is the first time I’ve personally seen ‘Bai Ling’ with anything more than a bit part, and she gives an incredible performance in her profoundly sinister role. A fair bit of her dialogue in the early portions of this segment is fairly cryptic, and somewhat adverse, leading you into a form of suspicious discontent. Though, based on some of this dialogue, predictions start to cultivate about the secretive aspects of the plot. But it’s more a case of foreseeing what might happen, and not wanting it to be true. However, this element still has the potential to placate some of the tension.
One of the nuances of the Asian horror market (if only for me personally), is its tendency to visually stun; ‘Dumplings’ does not disappoint, offering some excellent cinematographic work which often brings about some highly disturbing and creepy imagery.
The intentions of ‘Mrs. Li’ are quite unclear though, questionable, and lay out a theme of vanity. Questions will be asked after the end of this segment.

The film then shoots pretty much straight into the next segment, ‘Cut’ directed by Chan-Wook Park. A popular and established film director is kidnapped by one of his extras, and forced to play a dark game with him. If he starts losing the game, his wife is harmed in front of him.
The opening scene of this is transitioned well from the previous section of the collaboration; dissonant to initial expectations, it carries through the disturbing climax of ‘Dumplings’ amiably, partly through the use of soundtrack.
After this introduction, any existing disturbed emotions evaporate quickly by stepping into some slight satire on the film industry – a complete flip into a humorous dimension. However, some of this humour can be slightly obvious and quite unfunny; maybe more so for people with reasonable knowledge of the film industry, but nonetheless, it brings a pleasant feeling and its purpose is well suited. As the film goes on, the humour veers off into a more ominous inclination, it hasn’t really changed vein, but the situation in which the director is in makes it relatively macabre.
Park is incredible with his imagery, after seeing some previous projects, ‘OldBoy’ and ‘I’m A Cyborg, But That’s OK’, it’s clear to see Park has unique ideas of what he wants visually; these come through well, and draw you right into the heart of the film. (I can’t say for certain with ‘OldBoy’, it’s adapted from a Manga; they’re often beat for beat replications, and I’ve not read the book). ‘Cut’ is the most graphic of the three films, and can have you quite physically tense during some of the progression.
The whole plot is a much exaggerated lurid satire upon the film industry, which again is probably a fairly familiar concept, but this is in the horror genre. ‘Dumplings’, ‘Cut’ and ‘Box’ have these slightly unoriginal base premises, but the simple act of projecting the tale through a different genre has an immediate effect, and such a device is used perfectly in all cases.
Like ‘Dumplings’, questions are asked, but these are more themed questions in the sense of what drives people to vengeance, what causes certain impulses, as well as discovering the extent of ones adulation.

‘Box’ is the next segment, directed by Takashi Miike, who’s most popular work within the western world is the 2003 film ‘One Missed Call’ which was remade for the western market for 2008.
‘Box’ is an exploration of reality, in which a young woman, ‘Kyoko’, has insistent recurring nightmares where she is buried in a box. This is a tricky plot to sum up without spoiling anything; it’s a very artistic take upon the horror genre, with some great imagery throughout which constantly appears to manipulate timeframes. Though, nothing seems to be what it actually is. It’s crazy, but in a good way.
Unlike ‘Cut’, this doesn’t carry through so well, this segment starts off ridiculously slowly and doesn’t retain the emotion of the previous segment. This can throw you off, and place you outside of the film, but if you’re patient, it gradually draws you back in. Its slower pace becomes not only acceptable, but perfect for what the film becomes. However, the pacing does feel a bit too slow, and often the prolonged shots that highlight such a feature don’t contain enough emotional strength to be deemed appropriate.
This is heavy with the art (for a horror film, at least), though it is fair to say that Miike may have tried a bit too hard to be artistic with his storytelling, and in doing so may have lost some impact amongst some viewers.
There’s some excellent use of silence, which at times can bear moments that really make you jump, though sometimes this absence of soundtrack is unnecessary. Miike tries to tell the story through more visual methods rather than through dialogue which makes you uncertain as to where the plot is going to go, but it can be seen as an inconsistent feature. There are also some instances in which you are lulled into a false sense of security, and for an artistic horror film, that’s a fantastic aspect.
The climax, however, is perhaps a little disparate to the main body, definitely not to everyone’s tastes in terms of “closure” (mind you, the same could be said for each segment), but it does make some sense when thought about. Unlike the others, this might not leave you asking too many questions, but it can provoke thought into the events viewed. ‘Box’ requires the most open mind, and compared to the pacing of ‘Cut’, this one needs a lot of patience to sit through due to its unnecessarily torpid celerity.

As a complete set, this is fantastically gripping, and an excellent display of the talent at hand. Its trepidation is cumulatively considerable, and isn’t for those not used to horror films or sensitive to being disturbed. This is most definitely highly recommended for those with idolatry for the horror genre, especially those infatuated with the Asian horror market in particular. Though, even if you’re not inclined towards the horror genre, it is undoubtedly worth giving a chance.
Each segment is unique, and incredible in its own way. Whilst it is not without flaws, its individuality can’t be faulted, objectively this is 7 out of 10, but personally I love it, and in my eyes it’s 10 out of 10!

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