Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Killer-Works Memories: Dumplings

Back in 2008, I began posting a string of film reviews for Killer-Works. The web site has recently shut down, so I'll slowly re-post the reviews here. Last week, I reposted my inaugural review of Cannibal Holocaust, a classic in transgressive film. I followed that review with a more recent work, a short subject by Fruit Chan titled "Dumplings". The review originally ran on May 12, 2008:


Most of the time, we are not informed of atrocities so much as reminded of them. We already know how animals are slaughtered for meat, how foreign labor is abused to provide us with cheap products, how oil is linked to terrorist organizations, how pharmaceuticals are tested on animals. We normally reconcile it all under the sad label of "necessary evil". If we were, each of us, offered an elixir of eternal youth, how much thought would we give to the strangers who had to suffer to produce it?

"Dumplings" tells the story of Mrs. Li, an aging actress who fears her husband will soon leave her for a younger woman. She meets Mei, a working-class woman who runs a dumpling shop out of her apartment. Mei's dumplings are reputed to restore youth to those who eat them and thus fetch a high price. What makes this story so disturbing isn't the revelation of what's in the dumplings (you can probably figure it out before you even see the film), but rather how it is not mentioned outright, simply understood. The violent scenes in the film not only shock, but also add to the subtler theme of the piece, illustrating how casually Mei (and eventually Mrs. Li) observe it all. The finale is appropriately understated, shocking us by what has been done without explicitly showing us. The final scene is made chilling by a quiet sound rather than a bloody image.

Dumplings originally appeared as the first short feature in an anthology film titled 3 Extremes. A longer, full-length feature version was later made and can be found in the two-disc set of 3 Extremes. Personally, I would recommend the shorter, original version. The longer version is padded out with additional scenes of dumpling preparation, back-story into the life of Mei and Mrs. Li's husband's affair. All of this additional scenery seems to take away from the true horror of the piece...how a decent woman can slowly become indifferent to evil. Worst of all, the extended version replaces the original ending with one that manages to be both gorier and less brutal.

Enjoy Dumplings as a short subject on how we each reconcile with evil.

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