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Review © Larry D Burns, 2005.

Directed by Peter Chan ("Going Home"), Kim Ji-Woon ("Memories"), Nonzee Nimibutr ("The Wheel"), 2002, 120 mins.

The interesting thing about Asia is how different each region is. Since it is the largest continent in the world, you would expect each country to be as different from each other as night and day. This has never been more prevalent than in each region's filmmaking style. Although, for obvious competitive reasons, Asian filmmaking is trying to become as technically sound as its western counterparts, their stories and concepts are still decidedly Asian. Each region has its own beliefs, its own mysticisms, traditions, and of course cultures. And it's great to see that many Asian films reflect these for the rest of the world to appreciate.

Three such cultures are immortalized in film in the aptly titled Three. South Korea, Thailand, and Hong Kong are given the spotlight, each presenting their own interpretations of life and death. South Korea, being a progressive country, goes for a more modernist approach. Thailand, a country seeped in tradition amidst thriving modernity, opts for a more classic subject. And Hong Kong, a country that seems to gap the distance between realism and mysticism, reflects this impressively with their presentation.

Each one unique. Each one with its own cinematic flavour. But the challenge for any anthology to work is to find a coherent uniting factor, whether deliberate or not. Thankfully, this one delivers.

Synopsis:

Korea gives us Memories. A husband reports her wife missing and enlists the help of everyone from family members to the police to try to find her. It doesn't help that he has terrible visions of her, all bloody and scary-looking, worrying him more.

Meanwhile, a woman (who we later find out is his wife) wakes up in the middle of the road. She has no idea where she is or how she got there, but all she knows is that she must get home. This proves to be more difficult, since no one seems to want to talk to her or give her help. It doesn't help that she has hazy visions of frightening things like chopped fingers falling from the ceiling. Finally, she gets home, only to discover the true significance of her lost memory.

Thailand brings us The Wheel. A puppet master lies dying in his bed. This is no ordinary death bed, as screams of terror erupt from him, surrounded by ghosts, which await his death. We later find out that his death was a result of a curse - a curse brought about by the improper ownership of ancient Thai puppets. The puppets belong to their proper master, and whosoever claims these puppets will suffer a horrible death.

The puppets are stolen, and the curse lands on the head of an oblivious Thai puppet troupe. They sees great promise in the puppets, yet, sure enough, violence and destruction rains down upon them.

From Hong Kong comes Going Home, perhaps the most heartfelt of the three stories. A cop and his young son move to an abandoned building. Once settled, the boy roams around the building and sees a little girl in a red dress. He is frightened at first, but then befriends her.

Meanwhile, a man living in the same building is talking to a woman in a chair. She is silent and unblinking. He takes care of her in her catatonic state. When the cop's son goes missing, he looks for the boy and stumbles upon the woman. Held hostage by the husband, what follows is an intriguing look into the disintegration of the husband's sanity and which brings about a heart-rending revelation.

 
Three different stories, each one dealing with life beyond physical death. That's what the DVD jacket says, and that's what you get while watching this film. Each film treats the story differently, and yet it succeeds in dealing effectively with the subject matter. These films work because they are deeply rooted in each of their own cultures. Korea's Memories is perhaps the weakest in this instant, since it's a story that can probably be told in any region.

In terms of technical achievement, though, Memories wins hands down. It actually employs a lot of modern film techniques to tell its story - each one effectively driving a plot point home. Some may argue that Memories is the slowest of the three in terms of storytelling, after all there's hardly any dialogue going on in the film. Yet I think this is effective in allowing the viewer to pick up clues to the final revelation. It's actually not that difficult, but it's interesting to see how we get there. Kim Ji-Woon shows some of the cinematic flair here that prepared him for his masterpiece A Tale Of Two Sisters, so fans of that film should definitely give this short a look.

The Wheel meanwhile is trademark Nonzee Nimibutr. The film has his fingerprints all over it. For anyone who's seen Nang Nak or Jan Dara, you'll pretty much know what to expect. But unlike Nang Nak, The Wheel lacks conviction. It shifts unnecessarily from horror to drama to love story and back to horror. And its 42 minute running time seems like an hour and a half as the plot takes a while to get moving. Yet despite that, it's the most culturally identifiable of the three films.

The strongest piece, in terms of both storytelling and conviction, is certainly Going Home. Though not essentially a horror film, it's an amazing short. Dramatic and powerful in its execution, you're drawn into it. The plot does move quite slowly, but if you immerse yourself in it, there's an immense satisfaction you feel after watching it. It's got one of the most heartbreaking endings I've seen in a long time.

Three is a taste of Asian filmmaking at its best. It's a great introduction to the world of Oriental horror, and the idea that horror is not always about ghosts and goblins and things that go bump in the night. It's about what we do to each other. True horror lies in our capability to do harm to ourselves and each other. It's found in greed, apathy, disbelief, and things one rarely finds horrifying. Asian horror has a unique ability to take what's simple and ordinary, and turn it into something truly terrifying and alien to Western sensibilities. Because at the end of the day, when the blood and guts have been washed out of our movie going psyche, it's the cruelty we do to each other that's truly horrific. And currently Asian cinema reflects that best.

Editor's note: Following the success of Three... Extremes, which theoretically was a sequel to Three, Three has been re-released under the title Three... Extremes 2, making it a sequel to its own sequel. Confusing, vaguely irritating, or both? You decide... - Alex Apple.

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Chills: 5/10
Violence: 5/10
Sex: 2/10, one for each boobie in Going Home ;-)
Scary Kids: 2
Scary Puppets: loads
Scary Fingers: a whole sinkful
Litres of Tomato Ketchup: Memories - about a tanker, the other two - a cherry tomato's worth

Films in a Similar Style: A Tale of Two Sisters, Nang Nak, Three...Extremes

*** An interesting cross-section of Asian horror ***

Three Wallpaper
please note: the actual papers do not have the Snowblood Apple logo on them.

You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]

You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]


You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]

Wallpaper credits: Larry D Burns, 2005

Snowblood Apple Filmographies

Kim Ji-Woon
Peter Chan
Nonzee Nimibutr


Links

http://www.dragonsdenuk.com/reviews/three.htm - full review from Dragon's Den
http://www.kfccinema.com/reviews/horror/three/three.html - KFCC do their usual thorough job
http://www.spcnet.tv/reviews/review.php?rID=450 - review of Going Home
http://www.sogoodreviews.com/reviews/threegoinghomedirectorscut.htm - review of the extended Director's Cut of Going Home
http://www.asiandb.com/browse/movie_detail.pfm?code=5351&mode=stuff - you can get press shots and trailers here, theoretically, but its one of those sites that force you to register to get content, so if you do, be warned you may end up with 1,001 different varieties of spam
http://www.avforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=223039 - review of the whole DVD package

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