Yesterday I made the mistake of saying that Kairo was not a haunting film. Well, last night it came back to enact a measure of revenge, as its grim gallery of apparitions refused to leave me alone and ultimately populated a series of nightmares that left me unnerved and fully awake at 3 am. It was aided in this malevolent enterprise by last night's selection and its echo of a two-word refrain.
Perhaps I was also being punished for my cultural ignorance. There's a lot more to Asian horror than that which is produced in Japan. So much more, I now realize, that I could not hope to plumb its true depth without devoting an inordinate percentage of my twenty remaining selections. Given last night's ordeal, I'm not so sure that would be good idea. I still have Ringu and Ju-On on deck, both of which I plan to screen at a periodically haunted, hundred-year-old farmhouse, while the dead eyes of distant ancestors look down on me from their curved-glass graves. Following that, you can expect a screaming sprint through the woods back to more familliar territory.
It is fortunate, then, that I stumbled upon Three... Extremes, an omnibus film with contributions by an all-star team of directors from Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea. Between them these three short films cover a broad range of styles and subject matter, providing a good survey of what Asian horror has to offer. They also manage to shatter every taboo known to man: incest, abortion, adultery, cannibalism... you name it.
Dumplings, by the delightfully named Hong Kong director Fruit Park, is a quietly deranged attack on vanity and modern society's obsession with reversing the aging process. Eschewing all the typical horror conventions, Park very matter-of-factly tells the story of a former starlet who will go to any length to regain her husband's affection and the ageless witch who sells her magical dumplings stuffed with baby meat. Yes, you read that correctly, and I don't consider that a spoiler. Very little is left to the imagination in this film: where she gets her special ingredient, how she prepares it, or exactly what it sounds like to chew up fetal bones. Needless to say, Dumplings is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.
The second segment was called Box, directed by Takashi Miike, the insane Japanese mastermind behind Audition (1999) and Ichi the Killer (2001). Miike is infamous for his use of ultraviolent imagery and sexual perversion. Surprisingly, Box contains neither of these. Rather, it is an abstract tone poem about the psychological effects of overwhelming guilt. Box completely mesmerized me and left me emotionally gutted, due in part to a plot that hinges on twin girls vying for their father's affection (I can relate). It also contained an extremely creepy moment, alluded to above, when a disembodied voice from Kairo seemed to manifest itself in somebody else's film. Despite or perhaps because of this, Box was my favorite of the three.
The third segment (at least on my copy--the order seems variable, depending on the release), was Cut, by Park Chan-wook of Oldboy fame. In this short, a famous director walks off the set of his horror film and straight into his own personal nightmare. Less original than the other two, Cut was probably my least favorite, but it does employ some outstanding cinematography and set design, as well as a puzzle-box structure in which every facet of the film has a mirror image. Understanding this dialectic is critical to making sense of an otherwise inscrutable ending.
Expect a delay before additional updates, as I venture into the sticks and really test my mettle. If you don't see any additional entries by Monday or Tuesday, please send a rescue party.
Scorecard (out of ten skulls):
My psychological status:
queasy and uneasy