Cast your mind back to 2009, back when the blog was finding its feet, and I was listing 100 films I enjoyed. Yes, it is actually time to have a little look at one of those films again.
You see, back when I looked at Three … Extremes I was aware that one of the segments had been expanded into a feature film in its own right. Finally, I got around to watching the expanded version, and it is time to see how I enjoyed seeing it in the more expanded format. Or maybe it was better as a 37 minute short?
“Dumplings” fundamentally has the same story as the shorter version, albeit with a few extra story threads, and most importantly, a somewhat different ending. Ex Soap actress Mrs Li (Miriam Yeung) has a problem. Her Husband (Tony Leung) is a serial philanderer, and their marriage has become one of convenience. Desperate to regain her husbands affections. she finds out about ex-mainland abortionist Mei (Bai Ling), who has a secret recipe for Dumplings that cannot only revive you like some fountain of youth, but also make you irresistible. There is a catch though. These Dumpling are made from, umm shall we say the waste product of her previous career. Not only that, but as with all potential “fountains of youth”, it seems it is never quite enough for the recipient, and there is always the promise of a stronger alternative.
On the whole, this version of the film is pretty much more of the same. Which actually hurts the film, certainly in the opening hour, as it seems to stretch out things which were equally as obvious in the more succinct format. It also means that the great reveal happens much earlier in the running time, making the whole ickiness factor a different kind of horror. On the other hand, it does provide more time for the glorious cinematography of Christopher Doyle, and even more exposure to the frankly brilliant soundscape that adds a layer of horror that is so much more satisfying than the normal horror movie loud bangs and sudden musical blasts.
There are a number of plot additions, most of which add little to the film overall (though the extended work with a poor girl who gets an abortion because of incest adds a touch of tragic humanity), apart from one character who gets a little bit more screen time, which leads into a quite different ending. Because that’s the real alternative on show here gentle readers, a new ending that puts a different twist on things. They actually both work pretty well, though I maybe have a slight preference for this one, only because there was a slight incongruity about an aspect of the one displayed in the shorter film.
I do also think that the film is allowed to explore some of its more satirical social commentary in this version, with the Mainland single child policy, the importance of male children, and the role of the female in a traditional Chinese marriage all getting much more time, making the film more than a somewhat visceral experience.
Miriam Yeung is adequate here, and whilst it is a stark contrast to her more usual ditzy roles, she does make Mrs Li someone both abhorrent and maybe a little sympathetic. The thing is, she is really overshadowed by Bai Ling, who brings a heady sexiness to her role. Mei is really the centre of this story, even if most of what we know bout her is by exposition. And whilst her wardrobe choices can appear a little questionable, there’s no doubt she is the sexiest 60+ year old in cinema.
Other than the early pacing struggles, my biggest complaint are two scenes of crappy clothed sex. On two occasions, characters manage to do the nasty whilst keeping all their clothes on. Now, I am not saying I need to see all the flesh, but there are ways of making such passionate encounters somewhat believable. And when the Li’s have a moment of passion in a Hospital bed, the whole thing is made super awkward and frankly hilarious due to Tony Leung’s broken foot, turning moment of sexual tension and release into something more akin to high farce.
So, overall, was it worth extending? To be honest, I wasn’t really that won over by this version of the film. The pacing was off, and whilst I preferred the execution of the ending, the 90 minute journey to get there simply wasn’t as interesting as the more condensed 37 minutes from “Three … Extremes”. The film certainly has much more to say in a social commentary sense, but for pure disturbing horror, I think I would go every time back to that distilled concoction. Recommended, but not essential.