Saam Gaang (Three…Extremes II) (Nonzee Nimibur et al., 2002)
Three…Extremes has become a horror classic, showcasing three directors—Takashi Miike, Fruit Chan, and Chan-wook Park—who turned in A-level work. Now here’s the interesting bit: Three…Extremes is actually the sequel, Saam Gaang yi, released in 2004. This movie, Saam Gaang, is the original. The directors here haven’t gained nearly as much traction in the west, and the stories to be found here aren’t as… punchy, for lack of a better term. The stories collected here are slower, more cerebral; I’d almost characterize these as supernatural dramas rather than horror pieces (the supernatural drama seems to be something unique to southeast Asian filmmaking, and those I’ve seen have been bang-up jobs I recommend to everyone and their mothers every chance I get—which reminds me, this is another great chance to plug The Uninvited!). In other words, probably not as good a fit for the Western market. The movies’ respective IMDB ratings would seem to bear this out (as I write this, Saam Gaang yi has a 7.0, Saam Gaang a 6.2). But personally, well, I like this one just the slightest bit better than its sequel.
Jee-woon Kim (I Saw the Devil) leads off with “Memories”, the story of a woman (The Red Shoes‘ Hye-su Kim) with amnesia whose only connection to what she assumes is her life is a scrap of paper with a phone number on it…but no one ever answers. I’m not a big fan of Kim’s earlier stuff—I’m the only Asian horror fan I know who’s never been sold on A Tale of Two Sisters, which I found dull and predictable—and this, the weakest of the three segments, is no different. Second comes “The Wheel”, from Jan Dara director Nonzee Nimibutr, a guy who’s never made a horror picture in his life. (Remember, “supernatural drama”.) It’s a slow, satisfying meditation on reincarnation, possession, and murderous puppets. You can never really go wrong with murderous puppets. I will note for the record that I seem to be alone in my regard for this segment; every other review I’ve read has dismissed it out of hand, so YMMV.
And then… the brakes come off, and Peter Ho-sun Chan (Dragon) hits us with “Coming Home”, the runaway favorite. Wai (Infernal Affairs‘ Eric Tsang) and his son move into a new apartment. When his son wanders off in search of what may or may not be a ghostly playmate, Wai goes looking for him and ends up a prisoner in the home of Yu (Fallen Angels‘ Leon Lai, who won a Golden Horse, Taiwan’s version of an Oscar, for his performance here), a practitioner of herbal medicine who believes his deceased wife, Hai’er (Memoirs of a Geisha‘s Eugenia Yuan), can be resurrected with just the right formula. The verbal sparring between Wai and Yu, interestingly, put me in mind more than once of the interplay between Byung-hyun Lee and Won-hie Lim in “Cut”, the story Chan-wook Park directed for Saam Gaang yi.
I’m taking a slightly different route to get to the same conclusion as most reviewers: inconsistent, but worth watching anyway. There’s a lot to like about this, and if you’re unfamiliar with some of the directors involved, hopefully this will give you the impetus to go seek out more of their stuff. Worth your time. *** ½
No trailer I could find, but a(n unsubbed) clip from “Going Home” will fill the bill nicely.