If you haven't discovered Asian horror films yet, then you're missing the most exciting—not to mention creepy—reinvigoration the genre has seen in decades. Not since the 1970s, when directors like Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven and John Carpenter explored new ways to shock and disturb audiences with Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes and Halloween, has the horror genre seen such fertile explorations of the things that scare us most.
Most notable among the wave of Asian horror are films like The Ring and The Grudge, which have been remade as American films. But those two films are the tip of a cinematic iceberg of what is being called Asian Extreme—a term used to describe myriad genre films that includes everything from horror to science fiction to action. Packaged as a sort of anthology akin to Tales from the Crypt and Creepshow, only without the wraparound sequences, Three...Extremes offers a sampling of Asian Extreme from three of the hottest directors currently working. But be warned: There is stuff in these three short films that runs the risk of shocking, disturbing and confusing.
Hong Kong director Fruit Chan's "Dumplings" is a profoundly unsettling, gag-inducing tale of vanity. Miriam Yeung stars as Qing Li, a woman who feels her age has gotten the better of her. She seeks out the help of Auntie Mei (Bai Ling), a beautiful woman, much older than she appears, who cooks magical dumplings that bring with them youth, vitality and fertility. The key ingredient in Mei's dumplings is the secret of their power, and is certain to leave some audiences repulsed and offended.
From Korean director Chanwook Park (Oldboy), arguably one of the most exciting directors on the planet, comes "Cut," an equally visceral and emotional torture show. Ji-Ho Ryu (Byung-Hun Lee) is a successful filmmaker whose life is turned inside out by a deranged man who has appeared as an extra in all of the director's films. As Ji-Ho and his wife are physically and emotionally tortured by their assailant, the director is forced to make life-and-death decisions.
The third installment of Three...Extremes, Box, comes from Takashi Miike, director of Audition, one of the top 10 scariest movies of all time (see View from the Couch, page 67). The prolific Miike, who has turned out more than 20 films in the past few years, is known for his hit-and-miss filmmaking. Some films succeed, some fail, but all are provocative. "Box" is one of the director's better works, a cryptic, dreamlike tale of a young woman haunted by the demons of her past. Miike foresakes much of his usual shocks, while retaining much of his what-exactly-is-going-on content.
Though not the best examples of Asian Extreme cinema, or the best work from any of the directors, Three...Extremes works all the same. Blending familiar genre conventions with Eastern mythology, superstition and cinematic aesthetics, these short films are solid representations of the vast genre that's out there. But most important, Three...Extremes is likely to leave you sleeping with the lights on.
Rated R. Cinema 21, 616 NW 21st Ave., 223-4515. 7 and 9:25 pm Friday-Thursday, Oct. 28-Nov. 3. Additional shows 1:45 and 4:15 pm Saturday and Sunday. $4-$7.