January 6, 2008

Three... Extremes

Ever since I saw Park Chan-wook's Oldboy last year, I've been renting what of his oeuvre I can get my hands on. Though I also particularly enjoyed Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, none so far have affected me in any way comparable.

Tonight I watched Three... Extremes, a collection of three shorts, each directed by a filmmaker from a different country. (I've only just now, in reading a bit further about the project, learned that this is actually a sequel to 2002's Three, which has since been released in the U.S. as Three... Extremes II, presumably due to unimaginative marketing decisions.)

Fruit Chan of Hong Kong delivers "Dumplings," about a woman's pursuit of her own fading youth at tremendous cost, which blends humanistic sympathy and stomach-churning revulsion without resorting to the pushy "here are some lingering close-ups of gore" crap that most American horror directors seems to think is scary. Afterward, South Korea's Park Chan-wook toys superficially with the distance between internal reality and projected image in "Cut," a rather gimmicky and underdeveloped tale of a film director held and manipulated by one of his extras. Though it features some interesting moments of contrived significance, by the end I had little sympathy for any but the most incidental (and predictable) of characters, and I didn't buy the conclusion at all.

The real revelation of the evening, for me, was Japanese auteur Takashi Miike's "Box." The edges at first seem needlessly jagged, like the filmmaker hasn't quite got his act together: disparate images are intercut with harsh boundary beats, and the introduction to the contortionist tent environment smacked of someone trying a bit too hard to emulate David Lynch or his progenitors.

I couldn't have been more wrong. In hindsight, every image seems to belong precisely where it is. Not necessarily for logical reasons, as such, but because the emotional music the entirety yields wouldn't stir the air as well without them. The rough edges actually serve to unsettle the viewer more than the slickest Hollywood production of the same story ever would, and complement the eerie smoothness of the sequence that serves as the film's moving centerpiece.

In toto, "Box" is a devastating, if necessarily incomplete, portrait of aberrant development, both physical and psychological. The characters may not be as damaged as you were initially led to believe, or they could be suffering from even greater unseen wounds you wouldn't want to imagine.

That you could say the same about any one of us just makes it resonate with even greater amplitude.

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