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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 11.11%
Average: 11.11%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 3 user ratings

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by Elaine Perrone

"Fetal Attraction"
5 stars

In a global society that defines feminine beauty by the images shown in the movies, on television, and in advertising – media in which those images are overwhelmingly youthful – Fruit Chan’s Dumplings would be blackly relevant under any circumstances. Add to that the billions of dollars that female consumers pour into the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries, slathering their bodies with esoteric potions and ingesting everything from pineapple enzyme to human placental extract in an ongoing quest for rejuvenescence, and Dumplings becomes chillingly prescient of the lengths to which a woman might go, given the slightest hope of recapturing her lost youth.

Ching Li (Miriam Yeung) is a middle-aged woman in the throes of emotional crisis. Once the star of a popular TV series in Hong Kong, Ching has lost her career to the next generation of young actors, and the affections of her tycoon husband (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) to a 20-year-old masseuse. In a desperate attempt to turn back both the clock and her husband’s roving eye, Ching seeks out Mei (Bai Ling), a former doctor in mainland China, now a black-market midwife and naturopath of sorts, whose sole product is the intricately crafted organic dumplings that she dispenses to her customers with the assurance of restored youth. Confessing to Ching that she is decades older than she appears, and calling herself her own best advertisement, Mei counsels Ching to eat the dumplings, keeping in mind the results and not what their main ingredient used to be – fetuses aborted “naturally,” without the use of any drugs that would taint their cosmetic benefit.

Well-pleased with her increasingly revitalized appearance and its aphrodisiac effect on her philandering husband, Ching demands stronger and stronger product from Mei, who is finally able to deliver a batch of dumplings containing the “perfect” fetus to her customer – to unexpected, and monstrous, result. When the law intervenes, and Mei’s services are lost to her, Ching takes ingenious, and diabolical, action to assure that she has ready access to the grisly ingredient to which she has by this time become at least psychologically addicted.

A far shorter version of Dumplings (about 40 minutes long, as compared to this director’s cut feature, which runs about 90 minutes), with a markedly different and even more gruesome ending, appears as the centerpiece of the omnibus film Three…Extremes. The other two shorts that round out that trilogy are Takashi Miike’s “Box” and Park Chan-wook’s “Cut,” three very different takes on the premise of horror that lurks not outside but within each individual.

Dumplings, in either version, is a fiendishly brilliant collaboration of director Chan with a trio of marvelous actors and crew of technical wizards. Yeung and Leung Ka-Fai (not to be confused with the star of In the Mood for Love and Hero, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai), made up and costumed to look ten to fifteen years older than their actual ages, are thoroughly believable as the desperate housewife in midlife crisis and her cruelly self-absorbed spouse. Beautiful Bai Ling is the film’s heart and soul as Auntie Mei, the sensuous chef who takes great pride in her macabre dumpling recipe, and who has tapped in to the lucrative market that makes those “most expensive” of delicacies prized.

The film looks and sounds terrific, thanks to the devilishly claustrophobic, often disorienting, camera work of lens-master Christopher Doyle and the creepily effective score by composer Chan Kwong-wing.

Although not a meal I’d ever have presumed to order, Dumplings, as dished up by Chan and Company, is wicked delight.

Bon Appétit!

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originally posted: 06/21/05 23:22:35
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 San Francisco Asian-American Film Festival. For more in the 2005 San Francisco Asian-American Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Brisbane Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Brisbane Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/10/06 mike tench mildly interesting but overlong 3 stars
9/04/05 Liam The best of the "three extremes", and probably the best short ive seen 4 stars
8/15/05 Christine Hosie easily one of the strangest stories done on film aka Ambrose Bierce style 5 stars
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Directed by
  Fruit Chan

Written by
  Lilian Lee

  Miriam Yeung
  Bai Ling
  Tony Leung Kar-fai

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