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Not exactly a horror film, but definitely not for the squeamish.
Dumplings follows the tale of a Hong Kong dumpling maker and a TV
actress who feels past her prime (her husband is having an affair with
a younger woman). Dumpling maker Aunt Mei has a secret formula that can
restore youth and extend life. The audience is gradually let in on the
secret ingredient and the details grow more and more gruesomely
explicit as Aunt Mei maintains her cheerfully glamorous housewife
demeanour. When you know this is a really sick movie, the director
piles it on thicker and thicker, casually filtering in lurid details
amid a beautiful montage. OK, you've been warned. The description above
should tell you whether you want to stay away or make a beeline for the
The exquisite cinematography (and much of the resulting elegant and sophisticated look of the film) can be attributed to Christopher Doyle, whose work includes such visually stunning gems as 2046, Infernal Affairs, The Quiet American, and In the Mood for Love. Dumplings might be in poor taste, but it is served up with delicacy and finesse, and with much of its 'horror' deriving from the believability of the basic plot.
As you come out of the cinema, other members of the audience may look at you as if you are the most depraved person in the world for sitting through 90 minutes of such stuff, so just remember they did too . . .
In Hong Kong, Aunt Mei (Ling Bai) is a cook famous for her home-made
rejuvenation dumplings, based on a millenarian recipe prepared with a
mysterious ingredient that she brings directly from China. The former
TV star Mrs. Li (Miriam Yeoung Chin Wah) visits Mei aiming her
dumplings to recover her youth and become attractive again to her wolf
husband Mr. Li (Tony Leung Ka Fai). Along the sessions, Mei tells Mrs.
Li that she was a gynecologist in China with more than 30,000 abortions
along ten years. When Mrs. Li requests an acceleration of the process,
the opportunity comes when a fifteen years old teenager with a five
months incestuous pregnancy comes with her mother and asks Mei to make
The bizarre "Gaau Ji" is a low budget Asian movie that Hollywood will never remake. The disturbing and gruesome story depicts an unpleasant theme, certainly a taboo for the American industry, and has excellent performances highlighting Ling Bai making the story totally believable. The Brazilian DVD prudently advises that this film contains strong scenes and is not recommended to pregnant women and sensitive persons, and I totally agree. However, it is highly recommended to audiences that expect to see the break of a taboo in Hollywoodian productions. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Escravas da Vaidade" ("Slaves of the Vanity")
Note: On 28 December 2012 I saw a short version of this film again in an imported DVD ("3 Extremes", segment "Dumplings").
Vanity - one of the Seven Deadly Sins. This film explores the length some people will go to look young and beautiful. I really enjoyed this film; the acting was good with some great camera angles and a cracking soundtrack. All very distasteful but done in tasteful way - sort of. If a film can disturb me then it impresses me - some of the scenes in this movie certainly achieved that, unlike anything I've previously seen in a film and I'm a real horror buff. Although this is not a horror film it certainly ranks along side one for it shocking and disturbing value. I highly recommend this film to anyone, if only for the unique experience if delivers. 9 out of 10 (looses 1 point for being a CatIII film with 3 sex scenes and not even showing a nipple!)
"Dumplings" tells the tale of a former doctor, who operates a dumpling shop from her home with a secret youth creating ingredient. A former actress, past her prime seeks out this special food created by Aunt Mei in order to attract her adulterous husband's attention. Fruit Chan makes no attempt to imply or hide the secret ingredient from the audience, but rather lays out the premise from the beginning, while increasing the graphic details throughout the film. This film explores some disturbingly probable themes, especially how far people will go to reclaim their youth, and the emphasis society places on looking young. He manages to explore the repercussions of this quest for youth, while still leaving some details up to the interpretation of the viewer. The film is exquisitely shot, with some amazing angles and close-ups surrounded by beautiful cinematography, and set design. He manages to bring the viewer into the world of the characters making the theme all the more real and disturbing. Fruit Chan accomplishes this realism by juxtaposing Aunt Mei's blunt and complacent attitude with Mrs. Li's deterioration into desperation. Definitely not for the squeamish, or easily disturbed. To some this topic will be upsetting. However, for those who like something a little different, or fans of such directors as takashi miike or chan wook park, you will love it. I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Strangely I didn't feel like reviewing this film upon initially
watching it. Not because it didn't impress me or repulsed me as it did
others, but it simply got lost in the shuffle of so many other great
features of 2004-05 that I'm still making my way through.
The film opens up with Ling Bai going through the airport, with the camera loosely following the pinko decorated lunch box, then letting her into the frame and a thought immediately rushed into my head, "what was the last time that I really enjoyed anything with Ling Bai?". Seems like an easy enough question. Couldn't possibly have been a film called She Hate Me or the atrocity that was My Baby's Daddy. Her appearance on VH-1's career decapitation of a show "But Can They Sing?" clearly won't be raising her stock as a serious actress, yet there's still something mystifying about her. Enough to actually fit into the eeriness of this film.
My intuitions got reassured as Miriam Yeung walked into the perfectly disarrayed blockades of projects of Hong Kong, where the director captured the cold blue ambiance and already achieved something out of almost nothing. Ling Bai effortlessly portrays Mei, a self-employed cook and she is her own best advertisement and her dumplings? well they just maybe the best cure for anyone wanting to preserve and restore his or her youthfulness. Miriam plays Mrs. Lee, a retired actress willing to pay the high price for these special dumplings, financially and morally. She is actually the complete opposite of her character in real life, age-wise, but her voice and naturally mature looks achieve plausibility and especially come in handy with the progression of the story. Not a bad stretch for Miriam who spends most of her acting time in fluffy romance comedies.
Her primary cause of seeking rejuvenation is to regain the affection of her husband Mr. Lee, played by Tony Leung Ka Fai, who just happens to be an unemotional womanizer and a health nut himself. The pacing of the film might be a slight nuisance to some while not as stagnating and demanding as Ming Tsai's 7 to 400 Blows or Hsiao Hou's Café Lumiere. At the same time don't expect a charade of gory outbursts done purely for the sake of shocking you as the film takes a concentrated approach and builds up tension quite well before the tasteful (no pun intended) moments of desolation.
Even well after the revelation of the dumplings' main ingredient, this film stood still and needs to be commanded for its surprise but fitting choice of actors and their refreshingly good acting chops, as well as its atmospheric cinematography crafted by Christopher Doyle who smartly avoided over-serving us with his usually unusual bag of tricks. Not a film that I'll need to view over and over again, but who said that good films are only measured by the number of times one can enjoy them?
There are things you can't believe people just do to achieve something
important to them. This, I think, I call obsession. And what is
obsession? I define it as an irrational motive for performing trivial
or inchoerent and compulsive actions against everyone's will. A
psychological feature that is inconsistent with reason or logic.
And that's what this movie is about: To remain beautiful and young, a woman embarks in a sick and disgusting taste for a repugnant menu... Dumplings as they say... but really they're more than that!
This remind me of Erzsébet Báthory, Countess of Transylvania during the XVII century, when she firmly believed that if she bathed in the blood of young virgins she could be young and healthy forever.
"Dumplings" is uncomfortable, nauseous but captivating at the same time. The story of Ching Lee (Miriam Yeung), retired TV actress, who goes into the moral's depths of pursuing the eternal youth. With her betraying husband (Tony Leung Ka Fai) and the underground female chef Mei (Bai Ling), the critic goes far beyond the main subject, talking about, ironically, the narcissist impulses and the birth control in China as in the superfluous and pointless today's society way of living.
The movie is a spiral between revenge, betrayal, obsession and frustration with some vile and loathsome graphical scenes that should, undoubtedly, be offensive for the sensible ones.
Rather than be just a shocking film, Fruit Chan, the director, constructs a masterpiece of unappeasable fixation that's to stay young at all costs and thus, deepening it into the viewer's subconscious, awakes us to other facts: When we have a strong physiological obsession, we humans, do whatever it takes to fulfill that desire...
Sometimes you see a movie where (factual content and (emotional)effect
are strongly in opposition to each other. For example, in 'Pulp
Fiction' the content includes a lot of random and 'accidental'
violence, even against totally innocent people, but the way it is
portrayed prevents you from taking it seriously. It is like the
violence in a cartoon such as 'Tom and Jerry'. It provokes laughter
rather than disgust.
Dumplings is such a movie. It portrays a young (sort of) woman: 'aunt' Mei, who earns her living making dumplings that rejuvenate the eater, effectively giving him or her eternal youth, as long as they are regularly eaten. Now the catch is in the 'special ingredient'. I won't reveal what this secret ingredient is (although it becomes clear very early in the movie) but it is one of the sickest ingredients that I have ever seen, read about or heard of. The unique feature of this movie is that it is able to utilize this horrible element without becoming a movie that is either simply disgusting (like 'Braindead') or slapstick (such as 'Ichi the Killer'). On the contrary, it is actually a quite funny story about the interaction between Mei and her clients and about their increasing dependence on her dumplings.
But what makes the movie really worth it ( to me, at least) is social commentary that it includes. The real issue is not the 'special ingredient' of the dumplings, but the fact that people are so desperate for 'youth' that they're willing to do everything for it. In a society totally focused on the external norms (like wealth, beauty, and appearance) it is no surprise that the internal norms (like law, morals and compassion), atrophy and get discarded like a snake discards his old skin. This externalization of norms, however, is not criticized or punished, but rather advocated (by the film, not necessarily by its maker) as natural and acceptable, indeed inevitable. It is this highly subversive and thought-provoking element of the film that makes it truly worthwhile.
With the recent announcements that they are releasing a new Rocky movie
and Basic Instinct sequel, it doesn't half make you despair. Getting
away from the mainstream though and you may find this gloriously dark
movie about contemporary vanity.
Story centres round a woman who whilst still very beautiful is shunned by her husband for younger more nubile girls. Fearing the decline of her looks to be able to keep the attention of her husband, she seeks out the meals (the "dumplings" in the title) of an estranged ex-doctor who feeds her with the belief that she has the answer to eternal youth.
Revelations and twists and turns, darken the proceedings as the film goes on (which I won't mention to not spoil the show) but it is unlikely that you will see a darker satire than this all year.
Excellent acting, sharp script and an unsettling score all combine to make a revelation of a film. The camera work is sharp, and the message is powerful yet never ham-fisted.
The nearest equivalent I can think of is "Death Becomes Her" (the US film with Bruce Willis, Meryl Streep & Goldie Hawn), but that is more light hearted in tone. This has humour, but far more blacker than that movie, with themes that touch not only rich society but also the working class as well.
A great movie, which I would highly recommend!
Not so much a horror as horrific. With youthful properties gained from apparently eating dumplings containing special stuff, I won't give away the twist that happens in the films opening sequence, this is a visceral ride through this sordid Hong Kong tale. With cinematography by Christopher Doyle who did last life in the universe and 2046, it looks amazing, the crazy colours and dazzling visuals are offset by disturbing ideas and gross out scenes. What follows is a story of the length people will go to in pursuit of vanity. Well acted, well paced and always unnerving you are never sure where the film is going to go from the start to the madness of the final chop ending. Fans of the twisted and people used to the bizarreness of Asian extreme films will really be swept along in the story and all the disgusting close-ups that add to the horror. Adding also is the crispy clear sound that has such attention to detail that the slightest noise even one as banal as a clock suddenly takes on an eerie feel. Overall a brilliantly played out film but one for those with a strong stomach.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Those who've seen the Dumplings short on the rather awesome 3 Extremes
compilation know basically what to expect here. Much as Se7en became
known for its "What's in the box?" sequence, this movie has become
infamous for "What's inside the titular dumplings?", the answer of
which is far grimmer than the severed head of a terrible actress. It's
played very well, with the revelation ensuring that many lines of
dialogue create shivers and every crackly crunch of a dumpling being
munched on inducing squirms in most audience members. Sure, it's a one
trick pony, but when the trick involves sledgehammering one of
humanity's ultimate taboos, then you don't really need another.
Dumpings is about a woman who's desperate to get rid of some wrinkles and give her skin that youthly glow in order to hold her husband's interest. Of course, any husband worth a damn would oblige by dropping trou and offering up a batch of the world's most effective face moisturiser, but this guy's too busy with business and shagging women on the side to perform this kindly service. Their relationship is somewhat typical of the phenomenon whereby male wealth and female beauty go hand in hand. It's how we end up with the sugar daddy concept and why we see Donald Trump types marrying fake-tanned, fake-titted models a third of their age; females across the globe striving for ultimate beauty just so they can spread their legs for a guy old enough to be their grandfather in return for a diamond necklace. The sacred bond of marriage has become, in many cases, nothing more than a form of socially acceptable prostitution. I now pronounce you scumbag and whore. Now sign your certificate and start trading services.
So, Dumplings comments on this societal plague that sees a woman's beauty as a quantitative valuation of her overall worth, but it's also about the need to prolong one's youth to the detriment of others, mainly the youth themselves. The idea of leaving a better world for our children has been discarded in favour of a "me first" attitude where scrambling for every possible way to make the most out of life contributes to a legacy that damns the children before they've even left the womb. The Beatles told the baby boomers that all they needed was love, but the baby boomers weren't listening. They don't want love, they want a nicer house. Then they want the car they've always dreamed of, but then they need another car to drive to work. Of course that means they need a new house with a double garage, and while they're at it, why not buy another house as an investment property. The next generation inherits a world where luxuries have become necessities because you can't possibly be happy unless you own lots of stuff, right? Right? So you'd better work your ass off to get those things or else other people will think you're a failure. Screw weekends, that's 2 whole days that you could be working to buy more things. Oh, but make sure you get to the gym at 5 am because you're no spring chicken anymore, and remember your next Botox treatment is on Sunday. Follow that through to its logical conclusion and you have a whole bunch of great looking parents spawning the most spoiled, privileged generation of kids in history who are cutting themselves out of sheer boredom and apathy toward their own self-worth. Future fetuses being masticated between the teeth of superficial here-and-now "happiness", because the human race forgot that all it needed was love.
What does that have to do with Dumplings? Nothing really. Got a little side-tracked. Sorry 'bout that. Incidentally, it's a good movie. You should check it out, even if you've already seen the short.
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