Three directors, three doses of uncompromising Asian horror. The first, and nastiest, is “Dumplings” (directed by Fruit Chan), which tells the story of a woman who purchases some very expensive dumplings said to restored youth. What is the secret ingredient? The worst thing you can think of, trust me. And the film leaves nothing to the imagination. Where others would imply the horror and let your imagination do the rest of the work, “Dumplings” gets your imagination working, and then tops it… Nasty stuff indeed.
“Cut” by Park Chan-Wook (who also gave us Oldboy) sees a horror film director and his wife held hostage in a most sadistic fashion by an insane extra. The final scene is a bit muddled, and overall this may be the weakest entry of the three, but it is still terrifically stylish and unflinchingly brutal. In almost any other context, this would be the standout entry.
The always inventive (and almost always disturbing) Takashi Miike turns in “Box,” wherein a former contortionist is haunted by the ghost of her long-dead sister. What is dream and what is reality here is very hard to tell (a deliberate tactic on the part of Miike), but what is undeniable is the contemplative atmosphere of suffocating dread (I know this sounds like an oxymoron, but believe me, it isn’t) and the serene but terrible beauty of Miike’s visuals. This is the horror film at its most poetic.
In sum, then, a horror film anthology at the cutting edge of the genre. To be savoured.
The score is absolutely superb, ranging in volume from a whisper to a scream and completely enveloping the viewer. There is no background hiss (I mention this as important, given how much of Miike’s film takes place in absolute silence). The sound effects are brutally clear and quite loud – you’ll swear off dim sum for life after hearing a few of these crunching noises. The placement is also excellent – of particular note is at the beginning of “Cut,” when a character wanders out of the frame and her voice travels around the room through the speakers. Neat stuff. The sound is in 5.1, and in the original language of the respective director.
Though there is a little bit of grain, the picture is otherwise excellent. There is no noticeable edge enhancement, and the image is very sharp. The colours are strong (the reds in particular are quite disturbing) and the blacks are very, very deep. This is a handsome-looking film, proof that elegance can be just as horrific as the gritty look of something like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Miike provides a (subtitled) commentary track to “Box,” and his talk is as meditative in its own way as the movie. Very nice work. On Disc 2, there are some trailers and a making-of featurette for the main extra here: Dumplings, the feature-length version. The horrors may not come in quite the same concentrated dose here, but the characters (and there are a fair number of them) are given more room to breathe and develop. The menu on Disc 1 has animatated and scored intro, main screen and transitions.
Great-looking, great-sounding stories, that will definitely not be for all tastes, but hardcore horror fans should be camped outside the stores for this one.
Special Features List
- Director’s Commentary for “Box”
- Dumplings Feature Length Version
- Making-of Featurette