Dumplings 餃子 (2004) – Hong Kong
“Good taste comes from good dumplings,” Aunt Mei says to her newest needy client Mrs. Li, of which is looking for wrinkles-free medicine, a recipe, dumplings. “…And youth, well, that first comes from inside.” But it’s not as simple as eating someone’s special, super pastries to look and feel younger. One will need a thick gut lining and quite the appetite to stomach Dumplings’s conjured darkness of sensitive, squishy subject materials, not exactly palatable, definitely macabre. It’s horrifying and fresh, and during a time when horror films are in pursuit of bigger budgets and thrills in three-dimensional blood and guts excess, this provides reward of genuine entertainment, important as by renewing olden themes from popular gothic horror thought expired from years ago, tasty with a crunch.
Aunt Mei (Bai Ling) doesn’t look a day over thirty, though she talks of having lived longer than any of her peers, longer than her physical features give her credit, pictures to prove it. She’s in the business of selling dumplings, but not of any old variety or clipped magazine’s recipe. No, her’s, having healing, age-reversing properties, are niche, one of a kind, and word has come around. She does dissuade the negative nonsense of naysayers, of which undoubtedly are many. Her body is proof of a thriving motivation for culinary craft, of black magic, and a gift to keep others’ skin, as well as her own, lively and springy, front and center for your examining and agreeing, nodding, yes, young. Her list of concoctions with secretive ingredients is of nightmares though, and you’re warned now to avoid eating while watching. No more over easy eggs, thank you. I’ll take toast for breakfast for some time.
When retired television star Mrs. Li (Miriam Yeung Chin Wah) realizes her husband is interested in other women, she puts blame on her body, of physical features gone wryly and wrinkled. For romance, she looks for remedies in the form of experimental, super foods. Gossiped word around brings Li to Aunt Mei, her living and working in a small, shoddy one bedroom apartment, business for only the rich, and so it goes, the start of a wonderful, sinister duo relationship.
Li isn’t an easy sell, but soon she soon takes to those special dumplings with a passion, needing stronger, potent doses, a faster effect. In due time, Mei says, those stronger ones will come. The meats are seasonal, let’s just say. And so they wait, along with you, until patience cannot sit.
Director Fruit Chan, of which you may have heard, his first large recognized work Made in Hong Kong (1997), directed Dumplings with an attraction to darkness, deranged but inspired. Though it’s grim and brutal and menacing, it hides a coolness between its arrangement of scenes, masked in grayness, an attention to details and editing to turn creation of its world in your favor.
The characters consuming lifeful things for vanity is very obviously an obsession of classical horror, funny and peculiar, grabbing for undivided attention, but behind this film’s curtain, behind old wives’ tales, scare tactics, is a slowly beating, thinking heart to shock new life in a seemingly dead genre of film, rejuvenated and then turned to eleven.
As Hammer films once did for Gothic classics, forming renewals of older esteemed works, The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula, Fruit shows innovation of horror to tell engaging filmic stories. This result coming from the East, with other gifted directors from South Korea and also Japan showing signs of real life is reassuring evidence of an even larger revival, some new wave horror to finally come.
Though the subject matter and its ingredients are sinister, its narrative, the design, direction, exposures, movements, everything, is charged with life, pulsating, throbbing, and it’s worth your time to consider again this variety of work. Chan is forcibly begging hard-fast questions here, and you’ll be eager to answer them, however grim and sick, steamed, not always fried.
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