Director Fruit Chan has made quite a name for himself in the last couple of years. His films are interesting and usually quite accomplished in that the visuals, more often than not, are quite remarkable. He's not afraid to shy away from what some might consider unusual or risque content and he seems to have a handle on pacing and style. His latest film, Dumplings is a ninety minute version of a short that appeared in an anthology film entitled Three… Extremes that teamed him up with fellow Asian cult hitmakers Takashi Miike and Chan-wook Park, but Fruit Chan's short was the stand out of the three and is completely deserving of a full length cut – which is exactly what this DVD is.
Mrs. Lee (Miriam Yeung) is starting to get old. As she approaches middle age, she yearns for the days when she still had her youth and her looks and she starts looking into how she can turn back the clock a little bit. Mrs. Lee's husband (played by Tony Leung) isn't looking at her the way he did when she was younger and prettier and as soon she hears about Auntie Mei (Bai Ling) and her dumplings.
These dumplings, made exclusively by Mei, have a special ingredient that somehow manages to reverse the aging process in women and restore their youthful vitality. It doesn't happen overnight but if you stick to a regular diet of Mei's dumplings the effects will take place quickly and noticeably within a few days.
Mrs. Lee finally approaches May and she agrees to sell her some of the fabled dumplings. She devours them, her youth starts to restore itself, and everything seems to be working out great until Lee decides that she needs to find out what the secret ingredient is…
Wow. What a great film. For the horror fans out there, this one is certainly grisly enough to appeal to the gorehounds but there's so much more going on in this movie that it almost transcends the genre. The obvious statement that the movie makes about how women are constantly feeling forced to look young is obvious but no less important but the story throws such a deliciously sinister and truly disgusting curveball at you that you can't help but have this one lingering in your brain cells for a while long after the end credits hit the screen.
A large part of the film's success lays with the performances. Miriam Yeung and Bai Ling are fantastic in the lead roles, with Ling in particular giving a truly great performance as the devious Mei. She plays the part with just enough 'knowing' that her character is sinister enough and smart enough for the ending of the film to really work. Yeung's character isn't as far removed from Mei's as she'd like to believe it is and Yeung does a fine job portraying a few specific characteristics and traits to heighten the tension and make the comparison a more interesting one.
The film also works really well on a technical level. The cinematography is top notch with the camera, through the effects work, leaving just enough to the imagination until the right time to keep the suspense up so that when the twist is finally revealed, even if you did see it coming (and if you pay attention you will) you can't help but be repulsed by the whole concept of it all. The colors, the lighting, and the slow and languid camera movements suit the pacing of the film very nicely and it all just comes together and works.
Mega Star's 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a true thing of beauty. The colors are bright and bold and alive and the black levels remain very deep and stark without breaking up or turning into a blocky pixelated mess at all. There is some mild edge enhancement and some noticeable line shimmering effects present but that's about the extent to which I can complain. There's no print damage and only a slight hint of very natural looking film grain. Dumplings looks great on DVD.
Take your pick, you've got a Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix or a Cantonese DTS –ES Matrix Surround Sound mix with optional subtitles available in traditional and simplified Chinese and in English. Regardless of which option you end up choosing, you're bound to be impressed. Levels are mixed perfectly, dialogue is crystal clear and comes at you without even the most minute instance of hiss or distortion and the bass levels hit your subwoofer at just the right moments to really enhance the movie. A few of the more aggressive moments in the film make excellent use of the surround channels and the quieter moments use them to fill in the background with some atmospheric ambient noise and with the film's musical score. The English subtitles are clean and clear and easy to read and I didn't notice a single typographical error during playback.
The extras on the disc are as follows: first up is the theatrical trailer for the film. This is followed by a synopsis of the film (identical to the one of the back of the DVD packaging, making this a rather useless feature), some credits for the film, and a making of documentary. This short look behind the scenes of the film thankfully does come with optional English subtitles and it gives us an interesting peek at what went into making the film through some raw footage and quite interview clips from the cast and crew members.
If you enjoyed the short version of the film available in the Three… Extremes anthology, rush on out and pick up this full length cut. It fleshes things out considerably more and delivers a better, fuller story that makes the finale all the more chilling and just plain wrong. The audio and video quality are top notch and the extras are decent enough if not particularly remarkable. Highly recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.