Hallow-vent - Day 27: Dumplings

We love Halloween here at The DreamCage and we love the countdown to it even more as, every day in October, David Ames opens a window (well, writes an article) in his Hallow-vent Calendar of Asian horror films. His choice for Day 27 of Hallow-vent is Dumplings ...

Find the full calendar for Hallow-vent 2020 here.

It’s that time of year again: the birds are chirping, the leaves are falling, there’s a chill in the air, and there’s a pandemic raging. All of these elements come together to make a fantastic holiday season, full of candy, and popcorn, and gory, bloody, creepy films that cause existential crises and fits of catatonia. 

This year I am looking at a subgenre of horror that, although it is centralized to a continent, is very diverse in subject matter and approach: Asian horror. I LOVE Asian horror. It may be that the original Ringu played an important part in my young life, causing me to be both fascinated and horrified by this type of horror. 

While I was used to American horror movies, particularly slasher franchises like Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th, I was not prepared for the sheer amount of difference between American and Asian approaches to horror. While most of what I had seen of American horror dealt with blood, gore, murder, and a substantial amount of nudity and sexual content (my 12-14-year-old self was always appreciative), Asian horror was much more subtle and disturbing. 

Maybe it was the newness and disconnection of the culture. Maybe it was the language barrier. Maybe it was the seeming focus on folklore that wasn’t present in the west’s presentation (at least from my limited experience), but from the moment I saw Ringu, I was hooked. 

This year I wanted to approach Asian horror that was not as famous as those I had seen previously and so I chose movies that I had never seen, or even heard of for the most part. There is only one film on the list that I was familiar with beforehand, and I hadn’t watched that since high school. 

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the strange mix of subtlety, disturbing imagery, and slow-burn that is this year’s Hallow-vent calendar.

I have been meaning to watch today’s film for some time. I have seen it on numerous best horror lists, and the cover art was interesting. I avoided reading about the premise because it looked so strangely interesting, and I wanted to cultivate that mystery instead of ruining anything by spoiling the story for myself. I understand now why this film has made it to all of those lists. Today we are looking at the 2004 Hong Kong film from director Fruit Chan: Dumplings.

A former actress named Mrs. Li is losing her youth and beauty, and struck and concerned by her husband’s less than veiled infidelity with a very young masseuse, she strikes out to find a way to maintain her beauty and youth, and hopefully recapture her husband’s eye. In her search, she stumbles across a woman known as Aunt Mei who is famous in the underground for the rejuvenating power for her dumplings.

Mrs. Li is at first disgusted when she discovers what the secret ingredient is, but when she begins to see small progress, she returns again and again to Mei, becoming obsessed with regaining her youth and her husband’s attention. After pushing and pushing for better quality ingredients for the dumplings, Mei finally delivers and the impact on Mrs. Li is almost instantaneous. Her libido returns, as does her youthful beauty, and she does indeed reignite passion with her husband.

When she develops a strange smell, and her secret is discovered by her husband, strange events transpire that set the end in motion. The denouement of this film is so shocking and the implications made by the final scene are genuinely haunting.

I don’t want to give away too much or reveal exactly what is happening in the film but…DAMN…

This is easily one of the more, pardon my French, fucked up films I have ever seen. The way that the director and the performers treat the subject matter is to be commended, considering the brutality and total disregard for decency their characters have. That very last scene is especially haunting.

All of the performances are relatively solid, with a special mention in Bai Ling as Aunt Mei. She has a strange quality that both promotes strength and wisdom while also portraying an undercurrent of far out evil. She is remarkable in this, and I haven’t been as impressed with her since 1994’s The Crow.

If you find yourself in need of something strange, quirky, and incredibly fucked up, you need to give Dumplings a chance. The turns this film takes, and the frank nature Chan uses when approaching this kind of subject matter deserves attention, even if just to be horrified at its depravity.

Follow David on Twitter @TheDavidMAmes

Image - IMDb

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