Three Extremes

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Showtime recruited Japanese shock cinema auteur Takashi Miike to direct an installment for its "Masters of Horror" anthology only to discover that the helmer's vision was darker and more disturbing than even premium cable would allow. Interestingly, the omnibus horror film "Three... Extremes" finds Miike at his most muted and restrained, joining Chan-wook Park of South Korea and Hong Kong's Fruit Chan for a series of shorts that are often moody, disturbing and provocative, but only a little extreme.

Fruit Chan's "Dumplings" gets "Extremes" off to an appropriately stomach-churning start, focusing on a middle-aged actress (Miriam Yeung) who seeks out a mysterious chef (Bai Ling), whose dumplings have rejuvenating powers. Beautifully shot by Christopher Doyle and well-performed by the two leads (Bai Ling can act? Who knew?), "Dumplings" is a fairly obvious parable about what society forces women to do to stay beautiful, but amidst the heavy-handed thematics are plenty of warped moments that will force many viewers to look away.

"Extremes" dramatically shifts gears with Chan-wook Park's "Cut," a showy and darkly comic mediation on celebrity, filmmaking and revenge, in which a frustrated extra takes his favorite director (Lee Byung-hun) hostage and forces him to confess his own immoralities and commit several unspeakable acts. Coming after the measured maturity of "Dumplings," "Cut" is tonally jarring and its theme about successful people failing to appreciate their lives makes it look like a less developed "Saw."

Miike's "Box" is the final episode. Like the other two films, it deals with people pushed into uncharacteristic acts of destruction, this time an author haunted by dreams or memories of her childhood tragic experiences with her twin sister and her father in a traveling show. Concentrating on silence over dialogue and eschewing gore altogether, this is Miike at his most calibrated and least flamboyant, more "Audition" than "Ichi the Killer," a slow build to a twist ending that may or may not make sense.

Only "Box" comes with a director's commentary, but after emphasizing that his film is all about stillness, Miike seems embarrassed to speak and break his own spell. While he mostly just reiterates obvious plot points, the director does point out several clues that this viewer missed the first time around.

The rest of the extras concentrate on "Dumplings," including the big treat of Chan's 91-minute telling of the story. Spread out as a full-length feature, "Dumplings" becomes less of a gross-out punchline and more of a complete character study of a woman driven to desperation by the restrictions of modern society, with a particularly Chinese spin on beauty and femininity. There are obvious benefits to the expanded role of the main character's straying husband and his beautiful young mistress, but it's Yeung who helps craft a believable portrait of addiction out of the otherwise ghoulish story.

The second disk also includes a standard 15-minute "making of" documentary for "Dumplings," which discusses casting and meaning more than the film's bloodier effects.

STUDIO: Lionsgate
RELEASE DATE: February 28
RATING: R
PRICE: $27.98 each
TIME: 125 min.
DVD EXTRAS: Directors commentary on "Box" by Takashi Miike; Fruit Chan's full-length version of "Dumplings;" "Dumplings" featurette; theatrical trailers

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