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Queasy Pieces 

Three . . . Extremes showcases a trio of brutal Asian directors.

Horror freaks can triple up on the thrills and chills this - weekend.
  • Horror freaks can triple up on the thrills and chills this weekend.
Devotees of bloodthirsty Asian cinema may delight in the unofficial sequel to 2002's horror sampler Three. Like its predecessor, Three . . . Extremes is a trilogy of short films that root around in the dark regions of the psyche and conclude that human behavior is pretty appalling. Stylistically diverse, but united by their intention to chill, these shorts are like a good three-course meal served by ghosts at midnight, in spooky candlelight.

For the purposes of this project, Hong Kong director Fruit Chan (Hollywood Hong Kong) consented to abridge his 90-minute feature Dumplings, an unsettling variation on the old fountain-of-youth theme. In about 35 minutes, the filmmaker calmly and dispassionately reveals the awful bargain an aging TV actress (Miriam Yeung) strikes with vanity. Concerned that her looks are fading and her indifferent husband has gone astray, she visits a mysterious woman, Aunt Mei (Ling Bai), whose magical dumplings are said to reverse the aging process. There's no point in disclosing the crucial ingredient in Aunt Mei's crunchy pot-stickers, but if you yearn for a bit of social context with your horror, Fruit happily provides: He not only addresses the question of female self-esteem in today's China; he grapples, horrifyingly, with the gender bigotry that underlies it. Little wonder that the screenwriter here is a woman, Lillian Lee.

The middle segment of Three . . . Extremes, South Korean director Park Chan-wook's Cut, is by far the most extroverted of the three films and, despite its bloody plot, the most humorous. When a famous movie director (Lee Byung-hun) and his pianist wife (Gang Hye-jung) are taken hostage on a studio set by a resentful former movie extra (Won-hee Lim), Chan-wook lets fly with all manner of Grand Guignol effects, while the camera whirls around the room. Committed to his task, the enthusiastic terrorist performs a lively buck-and-wing for his captives (remember the droogs' happy mockery of "Singin' in the Rain" in A Clockwork Orange?), then presents his former "employer" with the kind of horrifying moral choices that can destroy a mind. In any event, the Korean filmmaker (Oldboy) takes such glee in dismemberment and psychic discombobulation that you may start to wonder what new ends the slasher flick has gotten to.

The surreal third episode of Three . . . Extremes owes less to Polanski or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre than to Buñuel and Dalí. Directed by Japan's Takashi Miike (Audition), Box enters the vivid mindscape of a beautiful novelist (Kyoko Hasegawa) who's haunted by the fiery childhood death of her twin sister. Horror movies have long exploited the profound twin bond -- and the potential for intense sibling rivalry -- but Miike takes those dueling ideas to extreme lengths, getting inside our heads with a kind of insidious grace. His film unfolds with the relentless irrationality of a nightmare, but in the end it makes perfect sense, as if the night itself had pulled a nasty trick on us.

One more thing connects these three films -- the brilliant cinematography of Christopher Doyle (2046). Amazingly, he perfectly suits three directors with completely different ideas about lighting, shot selection, and camera movement. If Oscar voters want to hand out an award for versatility this year, Doyle's got to be their man.

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