Never mind the fishy smell that comes as a side effect. What's important is the secret ingredient in Fruit Chan's Dumplings that will make every woman look young and desirable. Stephen Tan reviews.


How to stay forever young? That's the sixty-four-million-dollar question. In the case of Dumplings: Three... Extremes (2004), it is not a question of being young at heart or even reverting to an earlier time when one is young. It is all about LOOKING young, at whatever age the person is. Given the enormity of the cosmetics industry and the recent mushrooming of health spas, this Fruit Chan movie is definitely for anyone who is beauty-conscious.

Miriam Yeung is a has-been TV star who wants to recapture some of her youthful looks. She is hoping that if she still had her looks, her husband Tony Leung Ka-Fai won't need to stray (he is at present having an affair with his secretary). Miriam then meets up with Bai Ling, a surgeon from Mainland China who does not have the license to practise in Hongkong. Living in a rundown housing estate, Bai Ling has come up with a dish that will make anyone look young - she uses aborted foetuses in her special dumplings (jiaozi).

While the dumplings don't necessarily make Miriam yearn for more sex, she does wish for quicker results. So, instead of waiting to collect her supply of aborted foetuses from across the border in Shenzhen, Bai Ling carries out an abortion on a neighbourhood schoolgirl who had been made pregnant by her father. The result is a radiant-looking Miriam with a fishy smell about her as a side effect.


Meanwhile, Tony Leung discovers Bai Ling (and her secret) and the two begin a torrid affair. A police investigation finds Bai Ling missing from her apartment and Miriam pays her husband's secretary to have an abortion, leaving her with the foetus. For those who enjoy their wanton mee and jiaozi soup, this will put you off the dishes for a while.

The yuck factor rates high in this movie and one can imagine the groan (from the audience) that accompanies the first crunching bite Miriam Yeung puts into her dumpling. It is also the controversial subject matter (and one that is so closely involved with a common food) that the film has a somewhat nauseating air about it. To counter the unpleasantness, the film does have a hot sex scene between Tony Leung and Bai Ling.

Compared to his performance in Election, Leung is somewhat subdued here but it is Bai Ling and Miriam Yeung who shine.

In her Hollywood walk ons (basically that's what they amounted to), Bai Ling the actress is easily overshadowed. Here, the spotlight is on her. She may not be scheming but there is a determined streak in her. She is no mere innocent caught unaware nor is she the hardened cynic. She walks the fine line between understanding what women want and clinically offering them what they so desperately need. And then there is her big sex scene - she would have been a contender if she had come forward during those Category III days in the '80s.

The surprise in Dumplings is really Miriam Yeung. The Canto-pop singer is usually seen as a Sammi Cheng wannabe and her movies, such as Love Undercover, rely more on slapstick than on her acting though she does a credible job in Dry Wood Fierce Fire opposite Louis Koo. While she isn't haggard enough to look really over the hill, she does manage to convey a sense of desperation about her looks that can only be compared to an itch she cannot quite scratch.

Dumplings started life as part of a compendium of three movies called Three Extremes. As anyone who had been infected by the Ringu virus, that 1998 Japanese movie had led to the rise of a new J-Horror and K-Horror (Korean Horror) franchise. Three, made in 2002, was one of the horror films that was produced in Ringu's wake. As the title implies, the movie is made up of three short films - Peter Chan's Going Home; Kim Ji-woon's Memories and Nonzee Nimibutr's The Wheel. Though hardly scary, the film did well enough to spawn a sequel: Three Extremes, featuring Takashi Miike's Box, Fruit Chan's Dumplings and Park Chan-wook's Cut. But the inventive Fruit Chan and writer Lilian Lee not only delivered a startling episode (many regard it as the best of the three stories), they also managed to expand it into a feature-length movie with a different ending, and one that is quite a dish.

Note: The Dumplings: Three... Extremes DVD is banned in $ingapore.

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December 19, 2006

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