Dumplings: Three...Extremes
Hong Kong 2004
Directed by Fruit Chan.

Miriam Yeung eats abortions in the hope of regaining her youth and becoming attractive once again to her rich but wayward husband (Tony Leung Kar-Fai). Bai Ling is the chef, making lovely little dumplings filled with the little bits of pink flesh. Not scary, just gross. This is the full length version of a film that has also been edited down to be part of the trilogy film THREE...EXTREMES. I'm looking forward to seeing the edited version, as this one has lots of dead space that could have been trimmed.

Director Fruit Chan wanted to explore the lengths women go to stay beautiful, and considers it a disease of society (I know this because the "Making Of" extra on the DVD is subtitled). And it could have been an interesting topic. But the story does not build suspense. There isn't even a sense of mystery, as the contents of the dumplings is given away almost immediately. Instead, we are left with long drawn out scenes of Miriam Yeung in "serious actor" mode bringing dumplings to her lips, crunching them (loudly) up, and swallowing. She doesn't do too badly in her role, but then, just keeping a straight face during production would be considered an achievement of no small matter for her. Bai Ling, meanwhile, is electrifying and brings life to every scene she is in. And Tony Leung, on a roll this year, turns in another excellent performance as the philandering husband. No, the acting is not the problem with DUMPLINGS. The problem is behind the camera.

I blame it on the pairing of two auteurs of Hong Kong cinema: Director Fruit Chan and Cinematographer Christopher Doyle. I would watch anything they do without hesitation -- separately, they are among the most creative workers in the business. But together, they just couldn't create a "your chocolate is in my peanut butter" moment.

Fruit Chan's independent, low budget productions usually benefit from Lam Wah Chuen's gritty, raw cinematography. But Christopher Doyle, who usually lenses the work of Wong Kar-Wai, creates beautiful, lyrical compositions that you would frame and hang on your wall, if you could. Doyle's style gave a certain romanticism to Peter Chan's THREE: GOING HOME (2002), an offbeat tale of a man taking care of his dead wife. The style was well suited to the production. But in DUMPLINGS, his contribution works counter to Fruit Chan's inclination as a director. His sole aim seems not to frighten, nor to build suspense, but simply to illustrate in clear, stark terms, the lengths people will go to in order to look good. The depravity of our lives. Lam Wah Chuen's appallingly ugly video work in Public Toilet would have suited DUMPLINGS much better.

Rating: Marginally Recommended (Marginally Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on January 31, 2005.

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