Monday, November 05, 2007

Three...Extremes (and Netflix Watch Instantly)

3 Extremes

I decided over the weekend to finally use up some of my Netflix Watch it Now credits. In my plan, I get plenty of movies over their system but I've never sat down to watch any of it.

I decided to pick a film I only had a vague interest in, in case it was bad quality. So I chose to watch 3 Extremes, a film that features three short "horror" films from three different Asian directors.

Before I get to the film, I will say that the Watch Instantly feature is near perfect. I had no problems with my connection speed, the wait for it to download/start, or the controls. I wish that it worked in my primary browser (Firefox) but I keep Internet Explorer on hand for this kind of thing anyway. The only thing I could say about it is that I wish it had a better fast-forward/rewind feature. Once in a while I would get distracted while watching and I wouldn't be able to go back to exactly where I left. Instead it's a little cumbersome. But for online video viewing, it's still very good. That complaint only comes into consideration if I think about the difference between watching a DVD and using their online service.

The reason I was intrigued by 3 Extremes was because of all the talk about a particular short, Dumplings. I also was vaguely interested in the work of Takashi Miike, who directed the third short, Box.

Dumplings has basically one main draw, and that was what brought me to it in the first place. Everybody online talked about it saying "You won't believe what's in the dumplings!" and similar things, but nobody would say what the ingredient was that was so scandalous. So I wanted to know, and that was what made me hit play, I'll be honest.

The movie itself is not really even about what's in the dumplings, that was what confused me about it. You are given enough clues in the first five minutes to figure out what it is, and you're told outright about halfway through. The shock, the real power of the story, is in what happens after you know the filling.

This film is not for the squeamish in the slightest. And no, despite the fact that I desperatly wanted somebody to tell me, I won't reveal more of the plot here. But if you really want to know just check out the Wikipedia entry for the full length film.

It's a powerful film, the point it makes is very real, but I can't say I'll ever watch it again or that I even enjoyed it.

Cut is the second film, and it features a film director who is held hostage (along with his wife) by a madman, who threatens to cut off her fingers one by one if the director doesn't do as he says.

Now, I like movies that are open to interpretation. Pan's Labyrinth is one of my favorite films of recent years. But I think there's a difference between suggesting that the surface isn't all there is to the story, and just being outright unintelligible.

The short is done very well. The lighting, the design, the acting, all of it is excellent. I can't find many flaws with the technical aspects at all. But the story itself, in the last few minutes, just stops making sense. There are dozens of threads dissecting it in the IMDB boards, so if you'd like you can read about it there. But I'll just basically say that no one theory really seems to stand up and make sense across the board. And that bothers me, I think it's sloppy storytelling to be honest. If there were just two or three things that made a little more sense at the end of the film, I would have thought it was fantastic. Again, not for the squeamish, but good. Instead I'm left scratching my head and wondering if the director even knew what he was trying to say.

This brings us to the last short, Box. This was absolutely the best of the three. I think it was a marvelous piece of filmmaking, and an example of what I was saying about how you can be open to interpretation without being that confusing. There aren't any straight answers at the end of Box, but you don't need them. You're left to think about what you think the film meant, and each interpretation seems equally valid.

Box has little to no dialogue, it is about the visual interplay of dreams. It is a beautiful film, the scenes in the snow are simply gorgeous. The plot is deceptively simple, a woman starts dreaming about being trapped in a small box. Then she starts remembering her sister, and her dreams start to slowly make more sense. But the film itself is about so much more.

I recommend Box, and while I think if you like Asian horror you will enjoy the other two shorts, I don't think fans of American horror will like them at all. They are not "horror" so much as they are thought provoking and sometimes plain gross.