Dumplings (2004) Gaau Ji
Directed by Fruit Chan
Starring Bai Ling, Miriam Yeung Chin Wah, Tony Leung Ka Fai
A double review, the long and the short of it, a starter or main course, you decide!
What would you do to stay looking and feeling young and beautiful? How far would you be willing to go?
Dumplings comes in two flavours, a 35 minute short in the Three Extremes collection and a 90+ minute feature film, both are good and there are enough little changes plus totally different endings to justify seeing them both. But beware! This film may put you off from eating Chinese dumplings ever again.
Exquisitely tasteless, Dumplings takes you to extremes, Mrs Li (or Lee), a former actress knows that her husband has an eye for the younger woman. She has put up with the knowledge that he has messed around but is concerned that one day hell leave her. She wants to recapture her youth and as such has learned about the mysterious Mei, a woman who creates dumplings that can seemingly stop the ageing process even turning the clock back.
Mei, a former doctor in Mainland China creates her special dumplings in her apartment, the cost is high but she is the living embodiment of the success of her product. After much hesitation Mrs Li eventually tries some of the dumplings wary of the contents, after the first visit she returns time and again for further helpings. Although she can see and feel a difference it isnt happening fast enough for her, she wants quicker results and is willing to pay whatever it takes.
By a stroke of luck (for Mei and Mrs Li) providence provides the highly prized ingredient (but at a very high cost to someone else), Mrs Li gobbles down the dumplings and is temporarily satiated. At a dinner party a while later, the guests comment on the rather strange smell emanating from (what they suspect is) the food, Mrs Li knows the cause of the smell and realises she has a nasty rash on her neck. Taking a bath she rings Mei to confront her with her condition, Mei tells her not to worry, everything will be fine but Mrs Li goes to see her doctor, he re-affirms that there is nothing to worry about, its all down to stress.
Comforted by the doctor, Mrs Li heads to Meis apartment only to see the police searching it, Mei has already left for China and.
As already noted the endings are different, Ive also omitted including details about the contents of the dumplings and had to cut down or leave out other information because of it.
The feature length version is far more fleshed out, you see far more of Mrs Lis husband and his latest young lover (which is dealt with very briefly in the shorter version). Obviously with near enough an hour extra, the longer version gives you so much more to sink your teeth into and overall feels more balanced yet it doesnt feel too long at any time. Both endings are quite disturbing though I guess for most, the ending on the shorter cut will be the most gruesome.
I love the use of sound and facial close-ups in Dumplings, you almost feel as though youre trying to eat them yourself, the cast, especially the central pair are excellent and Bai Lings singing was a surprise.
The story plays on the desires of a lot of women to stay young and beautiful in an image conscious society and the lengths they will go to achieve their aims. It also plays on a major Chinese policy of recent times but to say any more would spoil the story.
I like both versions but if I had to rate them Id say the feature wins over the short. Both are deliciously disturbing, you have been warned.
BBFC rated 18
R2 dvd. Dumplings is available in feature length from Tartan with an exclusive interview with Bai Ling. Very good picture quality and excellent sound particularly DTS. Three Extremes will also be available from Tartan soon.
I have R3 versions of both and they are of an excellent standard, both have DTS tracks and more surprisingly, the making ofs and other extras have English subtitles.