By Joon Soh
", a compilation of short films by East Asian directors, is probably the most aesthetic of horror films to open in theaters this year. The three directors who participated in this project _ Park Chan-wook
of South Korea, Takashi Miike of Japan and Fruit Chan of Hong Kong - figure out ways to not as much terrify the audience as attempt to disturb them on a psychological level.
The films of "Three, Monster
" all work from the same premise _ that the source for the horrific lies not outside but within the individual. The results have somewhat of a biblical feel, with the directors casting their interpretations on greed, envy, desire and other deadly sins that can transform people into monsters.
The most original and polished of the three is the first. "Cut", directed by Park, is a continuation of the revenge theme that the filmmaker has been exploring in his recent films "Chiltunun Naui Him" ("Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
) and "Old Boy"
. The short film, however, takes a slyer approach than his features, and gives center stage to the black humor Park only hinted at previously.
"Cut" is a literal theater of cruelty, in which a failed actor credited only as the Terrorist (Im Won-hee
) holds a director (Lee Byung-hun
) captive at a film set, a recreation of the Director's own home. There, the Terrorist has elaborately tied up the Director's wife, the Pianist (Kang Hye-jung
), in front of a piano, and a random child on a sofa. He then gives the Director a choice - either strangle the innocent child or watch as he chops off one of the Pianist's fingers every five minutes.
It may seem odd that Park would find humor in such a situation, but the director does so with gleeful abandon. The situation is taken into absurd territory, revolving mostly around the game between the Terrorist and the Director, and aside from the unnecessary twist at the end, the film succeeds in keeping the audience in uncomfortable laughter throughout.
Less elaborate but perhaps more frightening than "Cut" is Fruit Chan's "Dumplings". The story, about a woman (Yeung Chin Wah) who tries to recover her youth by eating dumplings made of aborted fetuses, seems like something that could unfortunately occur in our youth-obsessed society. The short film, which includes excellent performances by Ling Bai, as the ruthless dumpling vendor, and Leung Ka Fai as the husband who chases after young women, falls short of meaningful social criticism, but its close resemblance to our world makes it more disturbing than any ghost story.
Miike's "Box", unfortunately, gets lost between the two superior shorts. The director fills his surreal narrative about a young woman writer with such evocative images as a circus act starring twin teenage dancers, bleak walks through the snow and repeated dreams of being buried alive. It's certainly beautiful to look at in a melancholy sort of way, but the film's simplistic story of jealousy lacks the psychological dimension that makes "Three's" other two films so engaging.