Ask any horror fan and they’ll tell you that the only sub-genre making quality horror nowadays is J-Horror which includes filmmakers from Ch...

J-Horror Takes it to Three Extremes

Ask any horror fan and they’ll tell you that the only sub-genre making quality horror nowadays is J-Horror which includes filmmakers from China, Korea and East Asia. Three Extremes showcases this broad spectrum of talent in the three short films of Dumplings by Fruit Chan, Cut by Park Chan-Wook and Box by Takashi Miike.
Fruit Chan’s Dumplings is delectable short film sure to peak the taste buds. An elite housewife and former actress, Mrs. Lee seeks out Aunt Mei, a woman reported to make the best dumplings in town. What makes her dumplings so special is their ability to preserve a woman’s youth. Aunt Mei calls herself “[her] own best advertisement” as she is sixty four years old, but doesn’t look a day over thirty five. Mrs. Lee is in the market for such a product in the hopes that it will revive her failing marriage. It might seem easy enough, but the secret ingredients that give the dumplings their power are the aborted fetuses of human children.
In this sense the film reverses the typical mores of the mother-child relationship and is built on the following premise: If most women give up their youth and beauty to raise offspring, might it stand to reason that some of that youth and beauty can be recaptured through the devouring that offspring? It’s a shuddering thought and one that Mrs. Lee accepts upon Aunt Mei’s urging not to “think about what it is, only the result.”
The result is a split between the two activities of eating and food preparation. There is literal veil between Aunt Mei’s dining room, where she serves her customers and the kitchen where she makes the dumplings. It is when Mrs. Lee crosses this veil that she becomes disgusted by what she is actually eating, but the lure of beauty is too much to resist and she returns for another taste. It seems that in Dumplings just because you want a hamburger, that doesn’t mean you want to meet the cow.

As a short film I felt the development of Dumplings was stunted and it didn’t fully explore several of these compelling themes that would have flourished in a longer film. Imagine my satisfaction when I discovered the full length feature of Dumplings conveniently included in the two disc special edition of Three Extremes.

The two films have different endings and the longer feature takes more time to explore Mrs. Lee’s addiction to the dumplings and we get more of the husband, including a sexual encounter between Mr. Lee and Aunt Mei. As for the endings, in the short film Mrs. Lee discovers she’s pregnant, thanks to all the fetuses she’s been eating, and her hunger drives her to carry out a self abortion in her bathtub with a metal spike. The film ends with Mrs. Lee licking the blood from her lips in a grotesque motion.
In the longer version things are a little more complicated, and instead of devouring her own child, Mrs. Lee pays for the mistress of her husband to get an abortion. The mistress is five months pregnant with a boy and the ending satisfies both Mrs. Lee’s hunger and her desire for revenge against an unfaithful husband. As a whole, both films explore J-Horror's preoccupation with women who rebel against their traditional roles which leads to a break down of the family. Aunt Mei, who performs an abortion to get rid of a child of incest and Mrs. Lee who eats her husband's child are two prime examples.

Up Next: Chan-Wook Park’s Cut and Takashi Miike's Box

9 comments:

  1. This is my favorite J-horror film. If French horror is considered a sub-genre, I would put it right up there. So many great movies within the last few years (Inside, Martyrs, High Tension, Ils, etc.).

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  2. Ahm, don’t mean to offend anyone, but J-Horror can only be from Japan (as the letter “j” stands for “Japanese”) and cannot be from not China, Korea and East Asia. And, uhm, it’s “Takashi Miike” - not “Takahashi Miike”. Very good director.

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  3. creepy premise- i like it! where'd you find a copy of Dumplings? Also, please do watch High Tension, both Planet Terror and I like it!

    luv, Trinity

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  4. Leda,

    Thanks for the correction. I use the term J-horror loosley because the thematic elements that bind these films together trascend the boundaries of a single country. I would attempt to sub catagorize some films as K-horror (for Korean horror) but that might be splitting hairs.

    I tend to group together filmakers of the Haunted School under the banner of J-horror because many of them deal with issues regarding the break down of the family and ghosts. For example, the films of Ji-woon Kim (A Tale of Two Sisters) of Seoul, South Korea can find themetic parallels with those of Ataru Oikawa (Tomie).

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  5. Trinity,
    The full length copy of Dumplings is included in the two disc set of Three Exremes. You can click below the article to take a look at the DVD on Amazon.

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  6. I have a special edition of Three Extremes, but it is a foreign copy without a second disc. I would love to see the longer version as Dumplings was my favorite of the stories. The stuff with the young pregnant school girl was pretty disturbing and very cool at the same time.

    Also, I second POT in saying that French horror is the big thing right now...all the movies he named are pretty fantastic.

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  7. Matt & POT,

    I had no idea that High Tension was a French horror film. I have yet to check out other French horror like Inside and Martyrs but it is on my to do list for the winter break.

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  8. I loved this film, I had to pause it half way through and make Gyoza... Is that wrong? Bwahahah!

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  9. Ms. Harker,

    No, it's not wrong ;). I did something similar once: After watching Sweeney Todd I made meat pies.

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