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DUMPLINGS

You probably know this perverse Hong Kong film in truncated form as part one of the popular THREE...EXTREMES anthology.  I didnít like the condensed version of DUMPLINGS at all, but find that in its full 90-minute length the film has a real sense of style, not to mention a fair amount of gut-level grotesquerie. 

The Package 
     THREE...EXTREMES was a three-part anthology feature from í04 that featured Fruit Chanís 90-minute feature DUMPLINGS in a forty minute distillation (followed by shorts that were conceived as such by Koreaís Chanwook Park and Japanís Takashi Miike).  Iíve already made my none-too-effusive feelings about that distillation known on this site (ď
A misogynistic ramble...I understand a feature-length version exists, which hopefully rectifies the cluttered narrativeĒ--Me), so was surprised to find the full length version of DUMPLINGS is quite effective.  But maybe the filmís qualities arenít so surprising, considering the screenplay was by the skilled novelist Lilian Lee (author of GREEN SNAKE and FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE).  Itís available in the US on the second of Lionís Gateís two-disc DVD release of 3 EXTREMES, and is by itself worth the purchase. 

The Story 
     Qing Lee is an aging starlet desperately trying to hold onto her youthfulness.  She visits the grungy apartment of ďAuntieĒ Mei, a former qynecologist whoís discovered the secret of rejuvenation, the essence of which she sells to rich women like Qing in the form of specially made dumplings.  Qing grudgingly partakes of Meiís dumplings and finds, to her delight, that they do indeed make her look and feel more youthful.  Qingís enthusiasm is dampened, though, when she learns what the dumplings are made of: aborted human fetuses!  She doesnít, however, let this stop her from continuing to enjoy Auntie Maiís cuisine.
     Mei, for her part, discovers the perfect ingredient for her dumplings when a young woman and her mother show up at her apartment desperate for her to remove a late term fetus--a product of incest--they donít have the money to legitimately abort.  Mei performs the abortion and then chops up the results for use in Qingís latest batch of dumplings, but after eating them Qing develops ugly rashes and emits a nasty stench.  It seems the fetus was ďcursedĒ as a result of having been conceived by its motherís own father, and now the effects of that curse are manifesting themselves on Qingís body.
     Around this time Qingís rich husband overhears a phone conversation between Qing and Mei, and immediately heads to Meiís apartment to have it out with her.  But once inside Mei seduces him (which isnít difficult, considering heís a philandering A-hole), in the process revealing that cannibalism has been a commonly accepted practice in China throughout the centuries and that sheís a whopping sixty four years old...even though she looks to be in her thirties, courtesy of the dumplings.
     Qing, meanwhile, tries to get a hold of Mei to get rid of her ugly rashes, but canít.  She decides to take matters into her own hands, bribing a young pregnant woman into getting her fetus aborted, from which Qing creates her own special brand of dumpling. 

The Direction 
     Director Fruit Chan is known in Hong Kong for experimental art house fare like PUBLIC TOILET (2002) and HOLLYWOOD-HONG KONG (2001), which explains the sparse and poetic ťlan he brings to DUMPLINGS.  It unfolds in a dreamy fashion with an appropriately languid pace, having been made with an evident care unusual in Hong Kong (where a moviemaker colleague of mine claims he once worked on a feature shot entirely over a long weekend).  Chanís talent further evinces itself in the many brilliant (and often downright shocking) scene-to-scene transitions (i.e. from a serene shot up a spiral staircase to a nasty close-up of an abortion being performed).  Obviously the film, dealing with abortions and cannibalism, is quite grotesque, but Chan manages to always include just the right amount of graphic detail.  Plus the brutal final shot, which didnít make it into the THREE...EXTREMES version, is simply unforgettable.     
     The gaudy photography by the great Christopher Doyle (whose other credits include CHUNKING EXPRESS and HERO) is breathtaking, and the performances, by international starlet Bai Ling (who famously got cut out of STAR WARS EPISODE III for appearing in Playboy) and pop singer-turned-actress Miriam Yeung, are uniformly fine. 


Vital Statistics 

DUMPLINGS (GAAU JI)
Applause Pictures

Director: Fruit Chan
Producer: Peter Chan
Screenplay: Lilian Lee
Cinematography: Christopher Doyle
Editing: Fruit Chan, Ki-hop Chan, Sam-Fat Tin
Cast: Miriam Yeung, Pauline Lau, Bai Ling, Tony Ka-Fai Leung, Tian Meme, Miki Yeung
 


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