Three…Extremes II (aka Three)(Saam gaang)
Hong Kong/Korea/Thailand (2002) Dirs. Kim Ji-Woon, Peter Chan & Nonzee Nimibutr
When is a sequel not a sequel? When it was made first!
Confused? Allow me to elucidate – the first Three Extremes (Saam gaang yi) film from 2004 is actually a sequel of sorts to this film – originally called just Three – but was released internationally before this film. When Three Extremes became a hit outside of Asia, Three was then re-released to cash in on the first (other?) film’s success, repackaged and renamed Three…Extremes II. Got that? Good!
In fact “sequel” is probably a misleading choice of word for Three Extremes and/or Three…Extremes II as the only shared element is the format of both films being three horror films directed by three different directors. The concept was devised by Peter Chan who invited fellow filmmakers Kim Ji-Woon and Nonzee Nimibutr to complete this triumvirate of terror.
Korea’s Kim Ji-Woon kicks off this collection with Memories. A man (Jeong Bo-seok) is traumatised by his wife (Kim Hye-soo) leaving him and taking their daughter (Jang Jung-won) with her, and doesn’t seem to recall the reason why. Meanwhile the wife wakes up in the street, confused and similarly bewildered as to where she is and more alarmingly, who she is.
As she tries to make her way home, the wife finds herself caught in a dreamlike world, while the husband’s increasing neurotic behaviour reveals some disturbing truths about the split and the fate of his wife.
Of the three films presented here, it is the ending to this one which brings it closest to being “extreme”, something Kim Ji-Woon will later embrace with A Tale Of Two Sisters and I Saw The Devil but Memories is a more brooding and abstract offering.
With two concurrent perspectives the narrative is decidedly askew, confusing us as to which reality is the current or true one. While there are some interesting ideas in this clip, I found it a bit too dour and lacking in a tangible hook to be fully invested in ether plight. Instead of giving us some background to the characters Kim simply throws dissonant images at us which we hope will eventually converge into something substantial.
Film number two is The Wheel from Thai director Nonzee Nimibutr. Based on a story by Ek Iemchuen, this tale is rooted in Thai tradition, taking as its theme the art of performance storytelling. A prologue tells us that it was once a tradition to perform using puppets but as time moved on, actors wearing masks and dancing became the preferred method of performing.
An old puppeteer Master Tao (Komgrich Yuttiyong) instructs his student Gaan (Suwinit Panjamawat) to destroy his puppets believing them to be cursed, shortly before dying in mysterious circumstances. But Master Tong (Pongsanart Vinsiri) think the puppets have charm and will benefit his dance troupe so he takes them for himself, unaware that improper ownership of the puppets will result in death.
Arguably the weakest entry in this set, The Wheel is the most revealing in terms of sharing the cultural quirks and tenets of its homeland while the other films could be relocated to anywhere in the world. The backwater setting for this outing enhances the mystique of the curse and the eeriness of impending doom.
Confusing the matter further is that much of the supernatural action appears to take place in a dream or vision Tong has whilst underwater – at least I think that’s what happens. A demon girl appears, usually as a presage of someone’s death, but is she one of the troupe of just an apparition?
Visually there is a lot to enjoy in this segment, the traditional Thai attire for the dancers and the distinctly Asian designs of the puppets bring colour and glitz to the otherwise dark presentation. The story telling is sadly inconsistent there is no established key antagonists/protagonist and the scares are frankly non-existent.
Finally the instigator of this project, Peter Chan, weighs in with its strongest contribution, a slow burning psychodrama entitled Going Home. Wai (Eric Tsang) and his son Cheung (Li Ting-Fung) move into a dilapidated apartment block which is due to be demolished. Everyone else has moved out except for one family, Yu (Leon Lai), his invalid wife Hai’er (Eugenia Yuan) and their daughter (Lau Tsz-Wing).
Cheung notices the girl hanging around the complex and she invites him to play with her and the boy promptly vanishes. Wai asks Yu if he has seen Cheung but is distracted by his odd behaviour and overpowering medicinal odours emanating from his apartment. Wai sneaks in when Yu is away but is caught and ends up his prisoner, learning the shocking truth about the secret Yu is desperate to keep hidden.
There are many facets to Chan’s entry which helps it stand above the others, namely it is a ghost story, a psychological drama, a mystery, a part crime drama and possesses a cynical social message to boot. It is also the most straightforward film of this collection, its bare bones setting and economic presentation providing a more chilling atmosphere than any amount of blood or CGI spectres could ever create.
It is a partially tragic tale pitting modern medicine against traditional methods but not in the way you might think and the shocks are inferred by the audience via the way Chan presents the all-important details. This cleverly structured storytelling is integral in making this a memorable chiller, bolstered by the superb performances of the two reputable leads, Tsang and Lai, and the evocative cinematography from Christopher Doyle.
The biggest problem with Three / Three…Extremes II is how it would seems retrograde and often clichéd compared to its inventive predecessor, if one was not aware that this title in fact came first. It’s akin to releasing Rock Around The Clock two years after Jailhouse Rock despite the former influencing the latter.
Whilst I found the other collection to be superior, this is a solid release with Coming Home well worth taking the time to seek out.