… the least you can do is use British English.
Mark Kermode’s strange review in the Observer of Fruit Chan’s full-length version of Dumplings (above) reveals a prissiness that I don’t expect of a reviewer. Cat III sleaze it is not. His comment raises the question of whether he has ever watched any Cat III sleaze. Yeuk saat? Hua jie kuang ben? (My guilty secrets are coming out here.) There’s probably worse. I can remember nothing as objectionable in Dumplings when I saw it a year or so ago (why does it take so long for films to make it over here by the way?). But this is off-topic.
Part of Kermode’s objection to the film is the company it keeps. The shorter version of Dumplings (which, I think, is the better version) is part of the set Three … Extremes, of which the other two shorts are by Takashi Miike and Park Chan-wook.
The socio-political nuances are lost, however, amid sploshy scenes of catheters and cookery which flag up the film’s grindhouse origins (it started life as one segment of the Three … Extremes portmanteau, co-directed with Takashi Miike and Chan-wook Park) and go way beyond the boundaries of simple bad taste.
Maybe I should get out more. It’s a new word to me. It’s not in any dictionary I’ve come across. But those clever folks at Wikipedia have it. What Kermode seems to mean by this Americanism is that the Miike and Park contributions to the trilogy are sleazefest (s)exploitation flicks. Hmmm. Just because Tartan brands Miike and Park under their Asia Extreme label doesn’t mean they’re ultraviolent tripe.
It’s a shame Korean film has got a reputation for mindless violence. It may be the fault of Tartan’s branding, but is it naïve to expect critics to think independently? Wendy Ide in the (London) Times is another critic who seems over-sensitised. I remember her writing off the wonderful riot of fun that is Save the Green Planet on the grounds of the brief “torture” scene where the “alien” is subjected to devious interrogation techniques (having vinegar rubbed into a sore patch on his feet if I remember rightly — something Andromedans don’t like very much apparently).
At least the review of Dumplings at the Observer’s sister paper, the Guardian, is much more measured. I take away two positives from reading the Observer’s review. (1) I’ve added another reviewer to the list of those whom I treat with a dose of scepticism and (2) I’ve learned a piece of American subcultural trivia.