I actually sat down to watch this DVD without knowing that it was a trilogy of horror tales, so it was a bit of a surprise to see the credits for the first segment start rolling and to have watched the climax of that first story without knowing it was the conclusion. But the description of the movie that came with the disc only talked about the first story and helped perpetuate my error. In point of fact, "Three Extremes" ("Saam gaang yi") is a trilogy of horror stories from three Asian directors from three different countries. This might not be everybody's cup of tea, especially when it comes to their taste in horror, but this certainly is an improvement over most of the horror anthologies we had to endure during the 1960s and 1970s. What you need to know is that it going beyond what we have seen in the past, some viewers will find this film goes too far.
The short that will push limits and buttons alike is the first one, "Dumplings," directed by Hong Kong's Fruit Chan. It takes a familiar theme in horror shows, the desire of a woman to maintain her looks and youth. Ching (Miriam Yeung Chin Wah) was a television star and while we would think she is still attractive, she is no longer working and has no doubt it is because she is losing her looks. So she seeks out Mei (Ling Bai) who makes dumplings in her crowded apartment and who maintains they are the secret to her own youthful appearance, because she claims to be a whole lot older. So Ching tries the dumplings, and, damn is they do not appear to be working. That means more dumplings, but the process is too slow for Ching and she is willing to try something more drastic, so Mei says she will see what she can do. Now I could let you know more about what else Mei does in her little apartment and what he secret ingredient turns out to be, but it might shock you, offend you, and possibly make you physically ill. But, hey, that is what peole WANT in a horror film, right? In that regard Fruit Chan comes up with a situation that will truly horrify you and a final scene that could well make you close your eyes and vow never to take a bath as long as you live. You will not forget this one and you might not forgive the director.
Next up is "Cut," by the Korean director Chan-Woo Park ("Oldboy"). A director (Byung-hun Lee) of horror films wakes up on his set to discover that his wife (Hye-jeong Kang), a pianist has her fingers super-glued to the keys of a piano. On the couch sits a young child who has been bound and gagged, while the director finds himself at the end of a tether that restricts his movements as to what he can and cannot reach. This strange situation has been created by a stranger (Won-hie Lim), who has appeared in all five of the director's films, and hates the director because he is everything the stranger is not. The stranger's goal is to bring the director down to his level by forcing the man to do something evil. Again, telling you what he want the director to do would be giving away too much of what happens, but the multiple meanings of the title given the circumstances will point you in the right direction. Suffice it to say that things get bloody, a lot bloodier than the first story, and even then it is not over.
Finally, there is "Box," from the Japanese director Takashi Miike ("Audition"). Given his track record (the "Dead or Alive" trilogy), the biggest surprise on this DVD might well be the restraint and almost surreal approach he takes in telling this tale, because after the first two I was not sure what sort of horror show was being saved for last. The story is about a novelist, Kyoko (Kyoko Hasegawa), who is having nightmares about what we assume is her past. Once upon a time there were twin girls, Kyoko (Mai Suzuki) and Shoko (Yuu Suzuki), who worked in a sort of magic act with their stepfather (Atsuro Watabe). The girls were contortionists, who would fold themselves into small boxes. Darts are thrown at the boxes to make them spring open and reveal flowers where the girls had been. But the stepfather, who cares more for Shoko, albeit in clearly disturbing and ominous ways, makes young Kyoko jealous. So she comes up with what may or may not be a bit of childlike payback that has fatal results. Now as an adult, Kyoko is not only having recurring nightmares, but she has also received a letter telling her to return to the circus for a reunion. The ambiguity of the situation, where she could be just dreaming or totally insane, is hardly resolved by the ending of this one.
I have discovered two interesting things about "Thee Extremes" now that I have actually watched the film. First, "Dumplings" was originally a complete film on its own that has been cut down to less than half its original length for this exported version. Second, Lions Gate changed the order of the segments for the U.S. version. Originally it was "Box," and then "Dumplings" followed by "Cut." That would certainly make a difference to viewers. I have to say that starting with the least offensive tale rather than the one that could compel viewers to hit the eject button on their DVD players is an interesting tactic to take. But I take some small measure of comfort in noting how many people knowing full well that the opening segment could be too much for some viewers still refrain from letting the cat out of the bag and allowing others to make up their own minds.