3 EXTREMES (2005)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 6 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Disturbing Violent Content, some involving Abortion and Torture, and for Sexuality and Language

(Cantonese/Mandarin/Japanese/Korean with English subtitles)

Directed by: Fruit Chan, Park Chan-Wook & Takashi Miike

Written by: Lilian Lee, Park Chan-Wook, Bun Saikou & Haruko Fukushima

Starring: Miriam Yeung, Bai Ling, Lee Byung-Hun, Im Won-Hee, Kang Hye-Jung, Kyoko Hasegawa & Atsuro Watabe

3 EXTREMES is an Asian horror anthology that unites three accomplished directors in their attempt to scare the shit out of audiences across the globe. Though I haven’t seen any of Fruit Chan’s other work, Takashi Miike and Park Chan-Wook are both big directors in the international filmmaking scene. 3 EXTREMES contains a trio of stories that mostly live up to the title’s promise of being extreme. Though the stories range in quality (much like pretty much every single anthology movie ever made), the end result is a fun, gruesome, and disturbing piece of genre storytelling. Much like the other anthology reviews on my blog, I’ll be grading 3 EXTREMES’s individual segments before giving my thoughts on the film as a whole.

DUMPLINGS: Hong Kong director Fruit Chan crafts this anthology’s most disgusting story. Aging actress Li (Miriam Yeung) wishes to rejuvenate her once-youthful looks. In an effort to do this, Li decides to chow down on unique cuisine from strange Aunt Mei (Bai Ling). It turns out that Mei’s delicious dumplings are doing the trick for Li’s looks, but they do have a nasty secret ingredient. This story’s major plot twist is obvious from the get-go, but that doesn’t exactly prepare you for truly stomach-churning moments and dialogue that you never thought/hoped you’d hear in any film ever. To make matters even more disturbing, there’s apparently some sick real-life truth to his horrifying tale. Some plot elements are a tad rushed, but Fruit Chan attempted to remedy this by creating a feature-length version of this story (simply titled DUMPLINGS and I’ll eventually get around to covering that movie). In its shortened form, this is gross and highly effective stuff. B+

CUT: 3 EXTREME’s best segment comes from South Korean director Chan Wook-Park. A big film director (Lee Byung-Hun) and his wife (Kang Hye-Jung) are taken captive by a psychotic extra (Im Won-Hee) who wishes to make the “good” director commit an evil deed. Almost the entirety of this story takes place on a movie set and features an escalating conversation between two people. Chan Wook-Park milks tons of tension out of this twisted set up, but also injects spurts of insanely dark humor. Won-Hee’s character is ridiculously funny during certain moments, while also flying off the bloody deep end in a matter of seconds. CUT’s conclusion is bound to split people, but I personally loved the dark manner in which this story closed out. While DUMPLINGS was disturbing and disgusting, CUT is the most stylish and entertaining part of this film. A

BOX: Of all the directors here, one would expect legendary Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike to deliver the most twisted, messed up, and insane story of the bunch. Imagine the disappointment when Miike creates a tale that starts with eerie build-up and strange nightmare logic, but falters in its clichéd conclusion. This third/final story follows novelist Kyoko (Kyoko Hasegawa) as she tries to come to terms with her traumatizing past. As nightmares plague her, Kyoko discovers that her sanity may be shattering or something more sinister is afoot. There are beautifully shot scenes and creepy images, but BOX falters under tedious pacing and an eye-rollingly clichéd ending. The end result is the most disappointing tale of the three. B-

Like almost every other horror anthology in existence, 3 EXTREMES has high points and low spots. However, this triple-threat Asian horror anthology succeeds in being gross, fun, and otherworldly. Each segment offers its own individual strengths and weaknesses. The best of the bunch arriving with Chan Wook-Park’s excellent CUT and the worst being Takashi Miike’s underwhelming BOX. DUMPLINGS sits in the middle of the 3 EXTREMES totem pole, by being both effectively disgusting and deeply disturbing. If you’re into Asian horror that doesn’t involve twitchy long-haired ghost girls and don’t mind stomach-churning content, then 3 EXTREMES will likely satisfy you…at least for 2/3rds of its running time.

Grade: B+

THE HANDMAIDEN (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 24 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

(Korean & Japanese with English subtitles)

handmaiden-poster

Directed by: Park Chan-Wook

Written by: Park Chan-Wook & Chung Seo-Kyung

(based on the novel FINGERSMITH by Sarah Waters)

Starring: Kim Min-Hee, Kim Tae-Ri, Ha Jung-Woo, Cho Jin-Woong, Kim Hae-Sook & Moon So-Ri

Director Park Chan-Wook (the man behind OLDBOY and STOKER) puts aside violent shocks in favor of intrigue, brilliant plot twists and eroticism in THE HANDMAIDEN. Based on Sarah Waters’ novel FINGERSMITH, with the setting changed from Victorian London to 1930’s Japanese-controlled Korea, HANDMAIDEN is rich in visuals, acting and plot. This thriller deceptively toys with the viewer’s expectations and kept me glued to the screen. The graphic sex scenes (there’s a reason this didn’t get an MPAA rating) may turn some viewers off, but they feed into the film’s darker, explicit underbelly as well.

handmaiden-1

Raised in a house of thieves, Sook-Hee (Kim Tae-Ri) is a pickpocket who’s desperate to get rich quick. Opportunity knocks during a visit from con man Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-Woo). This lowlife criminal plots to marry wealthy recluse Lady Hideko (Kim Min-Hee) and then have her committed to an insane asylum, leaving him with a fortune in cash and bonds. In order to successfully pull off his scheme, the Count enlists Sook-Hee to pose as Hideko’s newly hired handmaiden. As the Count’s plan moves forward, cunning Sook-Hee and naïve Hideko find themselves discovering unexpected feelings for one another. To say anything more would give away some of the film’s shocks, surprises, and brilliant plotting.

handmaiden-2

THE HANDMAIDEN is split into three acts and told in a decidedly non-linear fashion. We see scenes play out during one act and then revisit them from new angles later on. Most of the story’s intrigue and mystery come from the four central characters. With voiceover narration from multiple perspectives, THE HANDMAIDEN toys with the viewer’s emotions and offers frequent surprises…along with some near-pornographic sex scenes. There were scenes in this film that gave me flashbacks to BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR‘s now infamous ten-minute sex scene. This movie’s extreme eroticism may seem almost laughable when taken out of context, but it fits perfectly into the plot due to the sheer emotion and complicated relationships between characters.

handmaiden-3

Besides being sexy and unpredictable, THE HANDMAIDEN’s two-hour-plus running time breezes by thanks to Chan-Wook’s masterful storytelling and directing. The film’s visuals, sets, music and costumes are all equally stunning. The detail-laden technical aspects add a sense of sophisticated class and beauty to a rather dark and suspenseful thriller. Though the script is nearly flawless, I do have one minor complaint. This sole gripe comes from one specific plot point (I won’t go into details for fear of spoilers) that requires a small leap of disbelief. Some viewers could say that I’m nitpicking too deeply, but this detail has been nagging me since I saw the film. One minor plot hole (that could easily be filled in with some guesswork) isn’t enough to keep THE HANDMAIDEN from being one of 2016’s most memorable films!

handmaiden-4

Besides containing strong writing, visuals, and sheer eroticism, THE HANDMAIDEN delivers four fantastic performances from two actresses and two actors. Kim Tae-Ri and Kim Min-Hee generate astounding chemistry together and are the main thrust of what makes this film work as a whole. HANDMAIDEN could easily be examined as a “girl power” story crossed with a twisted Korean thriller. Tae-Ri’s Sook-Hee provides some unexpected likability towards her thief protagonist, starting out as despicable and ultimately winning the viewer over.

handmaiden-5

However, Kim Min-Hee effectively steals the show as naïve, innocent Lady Hideko…and effectively becomes the story’s main focus during the disturbing second act. Ha Jung-Woo provides some comic relief as hard-to-read antagonist Count Fujiwara. Though he doesn’t have a lot of screen time, Cho Jin-Woong is super creepy as the ultimate dirty old man character in white-haired, black-tongued Uncle Kouzuki. These stellar performers bring the complex story and believable emotions to life on the screen.

handmaiden-6

THE HANDMAIDEN is another great film by a great filmmaker who already has a number of great films under his belt. This erotic thriller is sensual, intense, captivating and all sorts of other impressive-sounding adjectives that you can think of. Though I do have a nitpick with one minor plot hole (which might not bother other viewers as much as it bugged me), this is (95%) cinematic storytelling at its finest. THE HANDMAIDEN is recommended for viewers who want adult-oriented, mature entertainment and don’t mind graphic sex and dark undertones thrown in for good measure.

Grade: A

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑