Korean Mystery horror film
Disclaimer: This review is about a film rated NC-18 and may contain graphic photos of scenes from the movie.
Those who have seen the short in the Asian Horror compilation "Three Extremes" would know what the premise of "Dumplings" is all about. This is the 90 minute uncut version of Fruit Chan's highly disturbing horror thriller (Cat. III=NC-18). Why not do a review of "Three Extremes" instead of this film? Well, first of all, the film is a more extensive version and secondly, the film is a nice blend of calculated direction, is entertainingly haunting and expresses a realistic idea of human vanity and errors. Based on the novella by Lillian Lee (Farewell My Concubine), Chan's award-winning "Dumplings: Three Extremes" is deliciously appetizing and at the same time quite repulsive because of its main premise.
A former actress, Mrs. Ching Li (Miriam Yeung) is a former movie star whose past fame is behind her. Afraid that her womanizing husband (played by Tony Leung made to look older) would leave her for a younger woman, she approaches a mysterious woman called Aunt Mei (Bai Ling). Aunt Mei looks somewhat trashy but alluringly attractive--very sexy. Apparently Mei makes these "dumplings" that hold the secret to eternal youth and they are very expensive. Her main ingredient: aborted human FETUS. Ching is a desperate woman who decides that any price is worth her youth and beauty, she wants to regain her husband‘s affection. Little does she know that she has set off a chain of events that would prove too high a price, far beyond her imagination.
The "secret" ingredient is actually shown within the first 5-10 minutes of the film and as anyone would predict, it would come at a price. The film isn't at all that bloody or gory; it's just that the very idea of ingesting human fetus in the form of dumplings is truly able to upset and unsettle its viewer. What is also more unsettling is the fact that Aunt Mei is so casual about it, surely a very intelligent woman with a very wicked madness. The film explores human vanity, lust and vengeance. Yes, the film is worth watching, there is more to "Dumplings" than the version seen in "Three Extremes".
Ching Li is a woman very dependent on her husband. She knows she has a lot to lose if ever he divorces her. The situation is actually the main villain in this film, Aunt Mei is just its tool. Ching's womanizing husband supplies the motivation. The relationship between Mei and Ching actually takes center stage as they develop a strange bond as she ingests her daily meal of the "magical" dumpling. Ching does exhibit the same mixed feelings about the special meat as the audience, but she is very determined to follow through.
The film also serves up a lot of depth to Aunt Mei's character which wasn't shown in its short version. Mei was a former doctor in Mainland China who had performed abortions, everyone knows that China has a "one child" rule; the country has the largest population in the world. Mei has performed 30,000 abortions in a year and so she has never birthed a child herself, her former boyfriend fears that her pregnancy may become cursed. The easy access to human embryos is more fleshed out and the details are presented in disturbing fashion.
The special ingredient itself is given a lot of character, Mei reveals the origins of the procedure that came from ancient China. However, twisted it may be, the legends surrounding youthful beauty had been known and practiced by the early Chinese emperors, and the practice had been used to cure diseases. Dimsum have always been a treat for the Chinese as well as other countries; it was quite clever for the writer to make the famous delicacy the vehicle for the cannibalistic ritual. The fantastic cinematography by Christopher Doyle is to be commended, and the style is reflected by Miriam Yeung and Bai Ling's enchantingly beautiful complexions.
Lust is further explored as the film does contain quite a fair amount of mild nudity and sex. Miki Yeung plays Connie, the mistress. The woman is given a fair amount of screen time. Mei and Mr. Li actually form their own relationship. Mei finds herself wanting the enriched life Ching lives while Li is a man obsessed with youthful beauty, he loves young pretty women and sex. It was also quite ironic that Li consumes a good amount of the Filipino delicacy called "Balut" (aborted duck eggs) to keep his sexual energy. However, the film has an added twist as Mr. Li becomes seduced by Mei herself, because she desires a man‘s warm touch. (I wouldn't blame him) Mei is woman supposed to be in her sixties but when played by Bai Ling with her fabulous looks, she is quite a sexually inviting woman. Mei is more a eye-candy than a breathing character in the film but Bai Ling gives Aunt Mei a very real feel, as much as a near-immortal woman can be.
The final act of the film actually diverts from the shorter version in "Three Extremes" and it is more effective and definitely affecting. Ching's descent into madness that results in her exacting vengeance adds an exclamation point to the film. It is a little predictable but nonetheless very disturbing. These characters are very unlikable, and ugly inside. Their disturbed actions adds more "visceral" punch when they act so leisurely about it. The lack of a repulsed reaction is the film's greatest asset although some may deem it a little too slow-paced. However, good the proceedings are, it does lack some definition that may prove a little unworthy of its very alarming subject matter.
"DUMPLINGS" is a bizarrely explicit descent into madness and what is so ironic about the film is that its ugliness comes from the pursuit of beauty. It is effectively transfixes that ugliness comes from the inside. While the idea of devouring human embryos is its major "gross-out" feature, there is barely any MAJOR displays of blood and gore. The storytelling managed to get under the skin and leaves the impression that the film is actually more gory than it really is. The film is definitely very cold, but exhilarating and full of affecting elements. It is appetizingly horrific that the taste may leave a repulsive after-taste in your mouth.
Recommended timidly because of its nature [4- Stars]
The 2-disc Lionsgate dvd release of "Three Extremes" actually has this film on the second disc. (I'm told) I own the HK region-3 release.
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