Fruit Chan’s Dumplings is a masterpiece. It is also a film not for the faint of heart.
If you cringed when you watched Pier Paolo Pasolini’s final film, 1975’s Salo, the 120 Days of Sodom . . . if you experienced a case of vomit reflux at Tom Six’s The Human Centipede . . . this statement on how far one will steep into the Seven Deadly Sin for their own personal gain . . . well, there’s no cup of rice tea that will sooth your soul or stomach.
Written by multi-award winning and Oscar-nominated writer Lillian Lee (aka Pik Wah Lee) of 1993’s Fairwell My Concubine fame, Dumplings is a film that’s incorrectly lumped in with the J-Horror cycle. And it’s a film that will forever remain untouched by the American obsession to remake all things J-Horror to a lesser and lesser effect. There’s never going to be an Aunt Mei cycle of films competing with tales of Toshio (Ju-On, aka The Grudge) and Sadako (Ringu, aka The Ring). There’s no way to boil this this graphic-filled dough ball into a good ol’ red, white & blue banality snack, homogenized for the post-Saw “Hard-R” marketplace.
I’ve lost many a film geek debates analogizing the Hong Kong-boiled Dumplings as a neo-giallo film. But this is my film review and I hereby christen this film as Asian Giallo. For if Dario Argento was in his “Animal” and “Three Mothers” trilogy prime—today—and not creating films in the puritanical ’70s, Argento—and not Lillian Lee—would have created Aunt Mei’s ersatz Erzsébet Báthory, the 17th century Countess of Transylvania who created a personal youth elixir from the blood of virgins. (Then Maestro Dario would have screwed it up with some over-the-top volumed Iron Maiden tunes, then blamed the bloody hijinks on a monkey with a straight razor.)
Mrs. Li (multi-award winning actress and musician Miriam Yeung) is a former actress pushed to the limits of vanity by her vain, wealthy husband in an affair with his maseuse. To save her marriage, she seeks the services of Aunt Mei (Bai Ling, Southland Tales), an underground chef famous for her rejuvenating dumplings—and the secret ingredient is more than just blood.
And we’ll just leave it at that.
You can watch the short version of “Dumplings” as part of the Three . . . Extremes anthology on Shudder, but there’s a free-with-ads stream on FShareTV. You can stream the feature film version of Dumplings on Shudder. But if you’re not a Shudder member, you can watch 11 clips from the film that will give your the full story arc, courtesy of Movie Clips on You Tube.
This a must watch and must have for any horror movie hound’s collection. And it’s a giallo . . . damn it!
Update, November 2020: Bai Ling and Fruit Chan are back together — in a familiarly-themed film — in the 2019 Cantonese-Mardarin language drama The Abortionist. Nominated in the “Leading Actress” and “Best Director” categories for this year’s Golden Horse Awards held in Taiwan (in November), Ling stars as a Tai chi teacher with a secret life as a black-market abortionist. You’ll remember Ling won dual “Best Supporting Actress” awards at the Hong Kong Film Awards and Golden Horse Awards for Dumplings, Chan’s segment of the Three Extremes omnibus, in 2004.
Hopefully, Ling and Chan will win in their respective categories, which will encourage an American distributor to release The Abortionist in the Western-domestic marketplace. At the very lest, we’ll hopefully be able to see The Abortionist on the free-with-ads stream Tubi TV platform, which afforded us the opportunity to discover and enjoy the recent Asian-imports Daughter and 0.0 MHz. We’ve also recently reviewed Ling’s work in the fun retro, genre mash-up Exorcism at 60,000 Feet.