Sunday, 10 October 2010

D Is For Dumplings

Title: Dumplings
Director: Fruit Chan
Released: 2004
Staring: Bai Ling, Miriam Yeung Pauline Lau, Tony Leung Ka Fei, Meme Tian

Plot: Aunt Mei (Ling) is reknown for her home-made rejuvenation dumplings, which contain a mysterious secret ingredient. Former TV Starlet Mrs Li (Yeung Chin Wah) is brought to Aunt Mei’s home restaurant, after hearing of her special dumplings in an attempt to recover her fading looks, as well as part of a bid to keep her cheating husband (Leung Ka Fai)

Review: Originally released as a short film, as part of “Three Extremes” (2004) alongside Takashi Miike’s underrated (like so much of his more subtle work) “Box” and Park Chan-Wook’s “Cut” all of which worked well together as a collection, though it was on the strength of Fruit Chan’s short, that he was given the budget to create a feature length version, which easily could have turned into a bloated mess, which thankfully it hasn't, instead standing testament to how a skilled editor can truly make or break a film, seeing how the film is just as effective either as a short or in it’s full length as seen here.
Despite being extended, Chan has skilfully managed to expand on the existing footage, adding not only more depth to his characters, but at the same time only taking us further into an increasingly dark world, especially with the additional of a much more darker and far less open ended conclusion, which again enables both short and full length feature to co-exsist without one domineering the other, for which could be considered to be the true vision for the story.

The performances thoughout are all very much against type with Ling, savouring an opportunity to finally step into a decent non gimicky role, after seemingly spending a lifetime playing supporting characters, so to see her in a more central role is certainly a refreshing change, as Chan not only strips away her usual glam look and provides her with a quirky wardrobe, but her performance is fully believable as the seemingly immortal Aunt Mei, happily going about her work and entertaining guests to her kitchen restaurant with song, as she prepares her dumpling, providing an almost Geisha esq style dining experience, to each serving of dumplings that Mrs Li chows down on, with Yeung also playing against type as the aging starlet, having spent the better part of her career in romantic comedies, she easily changes gears to give a more dramatic and ruthless performance as Mrs Li, with the uneasy relationship between these two characters, coming across extremely believable, even when portraying the more fantastical elements of the plot, while between them certainly making the audience puzzle over, which of these two characters is truly the more monstrous with their actions, as the Ling’s Hollywood style of acting blends perfectly with the more traditional Asian style that Yeung brings to her performance, which feels a complete polar opposite to anything that I have seen her in previously.

Effects wise it is kept simplistic and effective with Chan aging Ling and slowly removing the layers, to portray the effect of the years being stripped away, with Chan’s direction only making the effects of the dumplings seem only all the more believable, as he skilfully manages to play with the audiences imagination, while the soundtrack of hightened crunches and gulps, only becomes all the more chilling once the secret of the dumplings is revealed, which although unveiled early on still manages to hold it’s shock for the remainder of the film, which again is pure mastery on Chan’s part, as he finds increasingly new and inventive ways to ensure that initial shock remains.

The secret of the dumplings is handled in a very sterile and occasionally curious way, rather than a more traditional gratuitous and voyeuristic style which I honestly was expecting, with gross out effects all but absent, with the real horror coming from the relationship which slowly develops between Aunt Mei and Mrs Li, with Aunt Mei showing little emotion about the means used to obtain her secret ingredient, no doubt as a result of her past as an abortion doctor, which no doubt having long since caused her grow immune to the psychological effects of the more gooey aspects of life, in much the same way that Mrs Li is quick to get over her initial shock upon discovering exactly what is in the dumplings, she is so eager to chow down on, especially the more youthful she becomes, with this whole aspect of the plot being a definite nod towards the increasingly extreme ways, society is willing to go in a bid to retain it’s looks, wether by using any number of the expansive brand name cosmetics or by going under the surgeon scalpel or Botox needle.

“Dumplings” is a refreshing change of scene for the Asian horror scene, as it nixes the usual supernatural creepiness and instead relies on the real horror of everyday life and the unrelenting and obsessional pursuit of personal perfection, and while the mystery meat idea has been played around with numorous times before, this film still feels like a rejuivinal shot in the arm for the Asian horror genre.


  1. Nice review. I've yet to see the short version of this film, but I too enjoyed the inherent wrongness in this tale. I've never cared for Bai Ling, but she's absolutely perfect here. Overall, it's a restrained but deeply unsettling little story that works well.

  2. I'm the opposite when it comes to her, seeing how she's like Ellen Page, in the way I've watched some truely awful films, just because she's been in it, but this is definatly one of her better perfomances along with "The Crow".

    "Three Extremes" is definatly worth checking out if you havn't, even if they keep mixing up the order of the stories depending on which region dvd you get. I know they put this film as an Extra on the region 1 disc, which makes it a pretty darn good buy.


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