Saturday, June 26, 2010
Director - Fruit Chan
Starring - Bai Ling, Miriam Yeung
Director - Chan-wook Park
Starring - Lee Byung-hoon, Lim Wen Hee
Director - Takashi Miike
Starring - Mai Suzuki, Yimi Suzuki, Kyoko Nasegawn
Three sweet horror flicks ranging in the 40-60 minute bracket, loosely connected by themes involving the limitations of the human body and mind, and their inevitable link.
DUMPLINGS - There are so many "eating fetus" jokes swirling around inside my head right now that I'm giggling like a school girl. But I shall, in rare form, refrain. The opening soundtrack sets the creepy tone immediately, being obvious but not blatant about the actual consumption of corpses. The true horror comes not from this act, which is more of a bodily disgust inciting revulsion; rather, it stems from Mei's final decisions and acceptance. The "chopping" and "crunching" that permeates the soundtrack in conjunction with the close-up insert shots of the blade rending meat is an unsettling foreshadow of the inexorable descent into mental and physical desecration.
Some fascinating camera work also brings the blood (re: horror and revulsion) to the forefront, both literally on-screen and within the viewer's imagination. Take, for example, the low-angle shot of the fetus plopping into the glass bowl - a glass bowl and a glass table at that angle make it feel as though the whole coital concoction could come splashing into your face. (Most vile facial ever...ooops...restraint, restraint...) Anywho, the transition between the bloody bus seat and the bathtub abortion also fixed the notion of "weaknesses of the flesh" as integral - given the sacrifice she makes in the finale, one can see how important Mei's body was to her. Deliciously disgusting.
All topped off with a cool, ambiguous shot of an elongated tongue at the end - makes me re-think the pros and cons of cannibalism.
CUT - Brought on by Chan-wook Park, the genius behind Oldboy, I found this one to be the most satisfying of the trio...not that I want to detract from the other two. A lot of the cinematography is downright gorgeous, expanding on the surrealism of the situation, showcasing a large, absurd, stage-like setting awash in bright, stark, primary colours.
From the long opening take, swooping between inanimate objects on-set, to the large, wide-angle shots, almost walleye in nature, the camera never lets up. It provides the viewer with every possible vantage, as intimate as Ryo's point-of-view during the Extra's humiliating audition, expanding all the way back to the upper corners of the location, so that we, as viewers, are totally immersed in the severity surrounding our protagonist. The circularity of the opening staged sequence then replicated in the finale, complete with an awesome looking "jugular-chomping", was also quite compelling.
Now imagine the details of the overall story; the bright blue and white checkered backdrop, Ryo's incapacitation via a giant rubber band, the cardboard cutouts Ryo and the Extra exact their admissions through...all of these elements push the general absurdity of the situation. It gives the entire film an almost cartoon-like resonance, with very realistic implications. This ultimately results in straining Ryo's mind, which, in turn, strains Ryo's body: how much taunting, torture, and humiliation can he stand before his mind cracks and reacts in a manner that is uncharacteristic of itself? Those beautiful, wide shots of Ryo's girl strung up at the piano are perfect examples of this notion. From afar, she looks like a marionette on silver strings, but the close-ups of the decimation of her fingers brings the true horror of the situation vividly to the forefront. Picking through the surreal of life reveals the disgust underneath.
Again, a cool finale filled with cool ambiguity - wherein laid the actual point at which Ryo's mind snapped and he took the Extra's kid as his own? He said some pretty cryptic stuff during that final strangulation, and I am once again rewarded with an aesthetically pleasing visual of an elongated tongue.
BOX - This one comes from Miike, director of some great movies and some not-so-great movies, but hard working nonetheless, yet I found it the weakest of the three. Not that it doesn't contain some amazing visuals and some innovative editing, especially in connection with the soundtrack, rather it lacks something with regard to the plot. All of these Asian ghost stories seem to blend into one big smorgasbord, and Miike has already tackled this sub-genre with his mediocre One Missed Call. Protagonist is haunted by an apparition which is, in actuality, a warning about the antagonist - blah, blah, I've already seen this. Thus it's important for Miike to maintain an entertaining progression through aesthetic originality, which he most certainly succeeds at achieving.
Shoko's death scene, bathed in red filters, looks fantastic, and is only heightened by the looming, creepy, half-masked face of the ringmaster. Consider also, the extremely off-putting segment with the ringmaster manipulating the small wooden doll, complete with delicate "creaks" and "cracks", as he longingly leers, almost sexually, at the miniaturized version of his obsession. Given the contortionist subject matter, I found this semblance of foreshadowing quite effective.
Alongside the aforementioned sounds emitted from the marionette, the soundtrack also does some wondrous things during the flashback that fully details Shoko's death. The music fades out entirely, background noises are muted, and only voices can be heard. It's then at the exact moment of explosion that the soundtrack rushes back to a level of auditory compliance, bringing with it all of the chaos and panic that the scene affords; it's quite a brilliant ploy.
Again, the contradiction between what the mind is forced to give and what the body can actually take is a prevalent theme, and inherent to this subject. These girls can alter their body to accommodate even the smallest of spaces, but it's the ringmaster who, quite literally, contorts their minds. No elongated tongue motif, however...crazy, un-adhering Miike...